New research suggests that among bonobos, giving is considered good, and they may simply have given us the trait of generosity.
While chimpanzees are hostile and competitive, bonobos, their less-studied ape relatives, share roughly the same amount of DNA as we do, and live in the opposite polar society of the blood-gut chimpanzee dominance hierarchy.
A recent article, based on research by researchers at Duke University in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, found that given a bowl of prized fruit and the decision to eat it all on their own, bonobos preferred to unlock an unrelated bonobo from a room with a closed door to share food.
Later, the researchers found that when the bonobos were in groups of three – made up of a bonobo with food, his friend, and a stranger –subject with food would generally share with the stranger first, followed by the friend.
While humans may be more like chimpanzees in this regard, they sometimes perceive strangers as not even of the same species depending on how far away from their group the stranger is, this bonobo beneficence of treating strangers before they do. group members can be found at certain asian customs, or in Roman writings on Germanic tribes of northern Europe such as the Suebi, of which the historian Tacitus wrote:
“The host receives his guest with the best food that his means allow him … No distinction is ever made between an acquaintance and a stranger when it comes to the right to hospitality.”
NPR details that the bonobo sanctuary in the Democratic Republic of the Congo has produced 75 published studies, as the country is the only place on Earth where bonobos can be found in the wild. Here, as in nature, the leader of any social circle is the woman. Females keep it that way by teaming up to banish aggressive males.
When everything is calm, such as when it is time to eat, the hierarchy is reinforced through exchange, cooperation, tolerance, and a lot, a lot of sex, in every conceivable capacity, though usually only for about 13 seconds.
Other similarities include the simple tendency observed in both bonobos and humans to yawn after observing another member of the social group yawning, which was suggested as derived from empathy.
It is likely that the earliest ancestors of humans acquired many similar strategies, as we now share and cooperate on a large scale to accomplish things that no other species has been able to do, despite leaving many of our chimpanzee tendencies behind.
The research was well captured in a book co-authored by the lead author of the first mentioned study, in Survival of the friendliest:
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