2012-08-11

Evolved Morality

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by Neil Godfrey

I  loved this video clip of Frans de Waal’s talk, Moral Behavior in Animals. (It was recently linked on Jerry Coyne’s Evolution is True blog.) It demonstrates that more animals than humans have evolved moral attributes of empathizing with others, offering others consolation, “prosocial” tendencies such as caring for the welfare of others, and a sense of fairness. The talk begins by balancing the themes we used to hear so often about our nearest animal relatives being so aggressive and territorial by showing that they also “believe in” reconciling after fights.

Or if you are short of time and want to jump to the funniest part where we see outrage over an unfair deal . . . . .

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6 thoughts on “Evolved Morality”

  1. I seem to recall a study where monkeys in a lab were being given different rewards for performing certain tasks and IIRC some monkeys went on strike when they learned they weren’t getting the good treats.

    1. I am also reminded of a story I heard on the radio within the last few weeks about a troop of baboons which abandoned the aggressive pecking order commonly seen as the ‘natural’ struggle for dominance. It was in the context of trying to show that these behaviors aren’t ‘hard-wired’ but are learned and can be un-learned.

      The story was that the usual hierarchy was killed by disease and apparently freed from the usual violent social structure this particular troop developed a peaceful and cooperative method of organizing themselves. It was reported that they would instruct new arrivals from other violent troops in doing the ‘way things are done here’.

      Unfortunately I couldn’t find a link to the story.

      1. That story was presented by Gynne Dyer in “War: the Lethal Custom”. I don’t have my copy with me to quote you the account, but you can see a summary online at http://panopticonman.blogspot.com.au/2006/01/mastering-war-rove-prescription.html?m=1

        Basically a more peaceful, gentle baboon community emerged after the dominant alpha males died off as a result of monopolizing a village dump and suffering food poisoning. New additions to the community who tried to act out the old bullying ways were quickly brought into line by the surviving gentler types.

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