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Chimpanzees Console Family Members And Friends

June 25, 2010

New Yerkes-based research shows chimpanzees are similar to humans in showing concern for others

Media Contacts

Emily Rios, 404-727-7732, erios@emory.edu; Lisa Newbern, 404-727-7709, lisa.newbern@emory.edu

In a new study that provides more data on chimpanzee consolation than all previous studies combined, researchers at the Yerkes National Primate Research Center, Emory University, have confirmed chimpanzees comfort individuals they know very well, and females offer more consolation than males. These findings are similar to those in studies of human children that show consolation as a sign of sympathetic concern and empathy for others. The study, published by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) and available online, may help researchers better understand the roots of empathy in humans.

For the study, Yerkes researchers Teresa Romero, PhD, and Frans de Waal, PhD, studied nine years of data from two large chimpanzee social groups. They determined chimpanzees were more likely to offer consolation to family members, familiar individuals and those who had comforted them in the past, suggesting consolation is an integrated part of close mutual relationships.

“When one chimpanzee loses a fight, it is common for another chimpanzee to put an arm around that individual, to kiss and groom the animal,” said de Waal. Romero added, “Additionally, consolation occurred more frequently in the absence of reconciliation after an act of aggression. This suggests chimpanzees offered comfort because they were sensitive to the needs of the victim.”

Researchers next plan to evaluate the emotional status of the individual animals offering comfort to others. This may help researchers further understand why chimpanzees show this type of concern for one another.

For eight decades, the Yerkes National Primate Research Center, Emory University, has been dedicated to conducting essential basic science and translational research to advance scientific understanding and to improve the health and well-being of humans and nonhuman primates. Today, the center, as one of only eight National Institutes of Health–funded national primate research centers, provides leadership, training and resources to foster scientific creativity, collaboration and discoveries. Yerkes-based research is grounded in scientific integrity, expert knowledge, respect for colleagues, an open exchange of ideas and compassionate quality animal care.

Within the fields of microbiology and immunology, neurologic diseases, neuropharmacology, behavioral, cognitive and developmental neuroscience, and psychiatric disorders, the center’s research programs are seeking ways to: develop vaccines for infectious and noninfectious diseases; treat drug addiction; interpret brain activity through imaging; increase understanding of progressive illnesses such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases; unlock the secrets of memory; determine how the interaction between genetics and society shape who we are; and advance knowledge about the evolutionary links between biology and behavior.

The goal of the Living Links Center at the Yerkes National Primate Research Center is to view great apes as a window to the human past by studying their behavior, cognition, neuroanatomy, genes and reproduction in a noninvasive manor. Another goal is to educate the public about apes and to help guarantee their continued existence in the wild.


The Robert W. Woodruff Health Sciences Center of Emory University is an academic health science and service center focused on missions of teaching, research, health care and public service. Its components include the Emory University School of Medicine, Nell Hodgson Woodruff School of Nursing, and Rollins School of Public Health; Yerkes National Primate Research Center; Winship Cancer Institute of Emory University; and Emory Healthcare, the largest, most comprehensive health system in Georgia. Emory Healthcare includes: The Emory Clinic, Emory-Children's Center, Emory University Hospital, Emory University Hospital Midtown, Wesley Woods Center, and Emory University Orthopaedics & Spine Hospital. The Woodruff Health Sciences Center has a $2.5 billion budget, 17,600 employees, 2,500 full-time and 1,500 affiliated faculty, 4,700 students and trainees, and a $5.7 billion economic impact on metro Atlanta.

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