Do Bonobos Prefer Helpers or Bullies?

In a 2007 study using puppet shows, researchers watched how infants aged six to 10 months evaluated the social interactions between "kind" and "mean" characters. The human babies couldn’t talk, but they clearly showed an affinity for helpful characters, even to the point of avoiding those who were mean to others. A similar study, which was recently discussed in the journal Current Biology, found that bonobos, one of humankind’s closest relatives, did the opposite -- they tended to prefer the mean, bullying characters.

Follow the dominant leader:

  • Researchers from Duke University basically repeated the 2007 experiment on young, orphaned bonobos living at a sanctuary in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
  • After a skit put on for the bonobos featuring “helpful” and “mean” characters, a bonobo in a cage was given a choice of food from both. They consistently chose to take food from the dominant character.
  • “Dominance is really important for apes,” said researcher Christopher Krupenye. “They're attracted to an individual who might be a powerful friend or ally,” as opposed to someone just being helpful.
More Info: NPR

Discussion Comments


There are some humans that follow the bonobos' thinking too. Very sad. However, this seems to support the idea that helpful behavior creates a more advanced being.

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