Studies in the field of animal empathy have begun to show a side to non-human animals that has been widely ignored, their emotions and emotional capacities. This contradicts the outdated belief that empathy is a trait that only humans possess, with recent findings proving that elephants, several primates, dolphins, whales, wolves and even rodents possess the trait. Empathy is defined as the ability to both understand another’s emotions but also feeling those emotions. Yet many humans continue to ignore these findings and treat animals as if they were less evolved than us. This is a result of a lack of consensus within the scientific community as to how animal empathy should be measured and understood. Recent studies have begun to converge and agree on one thing; certain animals are empathic. This can be proven through behavioral studies, scientific studies and through the theory of evolution.
What happens when two monkeys are paid unequally?
Fairness, reciprocity, empathy, cooperation — caring about the well-being of others seems like a very human trait. But Frans de Waa shares some surprising videos of behavioral tests, on primates and other mammals, that show how many of these moral traits all of us share.
An Orangutan’s Mimicry Offers Clues to Language’s Origins
Orangutan hear, orangutan do.
Researchers at the Indianapolis Zoo observed an orangutan mimic the pitch and tone of human sounds, for the first time. The finding provides insight into the evolutionary origin of human speech, the team said.
“It really redefines for us what we know about the capabilities of orangutans,” said Rob Shumaker, director of the zoo and an author on the paper. “What we have to consider now is the possibility that the origins of spoken language are not exclusively human, and that they may have come from great apes.”
Meet Rocky, an 11-year-old orangutan at the zoo, has a special ability. He can make sounds using his vocal folds, or voice box, that resemble the vowel “A,” and sound like “Ah.”
The researchers note that the sounds are specific to Rocky and ones that he used everyday. No other orangutan, captive or wild, made these noises, at least not that we know of. Rocky, who had never lived in the rain forest, apparently learned the skill during his time as an entertainment orangutan before coming to the zoo. He was at one point the most seen orangutan in movies and commercials, according to the zoo.
The researchers said that Rocky’s grunts show that great apes have the capacity to learn to control their muscles to deliberately alter their sounds in a “conversational” manner. The findings, which were published in the journal Scientific Reports, challenge the notion that orangutans — an endangered species that shares about 97 percent of DNA with humans — make noises simply in response to something, sort of like how you might scream when you place your hand on a hot stove.
“Orangutans can clearly and carefully control their vocalizations, and they can do it in real-time interacting with another individual,” said Dr. Schumaker. “They can control the volume and the frequency and even the duration.”
To show the extent of Rocky’s vocal abilities, the researchers had Dr. Madeleine Hardus, an independent researcher who works with the zoo, hold a conversation with the orangutan entirely in “wookies.” She would say “Ah” at a certain tone and Rocky would mimic that sound for a treat.
“We presented him a random sequence of 500 either low or high ‘wookies’ produced by the human,” Adriano Lameira, a primatologist at Durham University in Britain, and lead author of the study said. The goal was to have Rocky repeat the sound in the same tone and frequency as the lady’s noise. They used 500 variants of “Ahs” to show that his responses were not random guesses.
The team recorded the tests and then used computer software to see how closely the frequency, pitch, tone and duration of Rocky’s “Ahs” matched Dr. Hardus’s “Ahs.”
“Every time she lowered her voice or raised her voice frequency, Rocky matched this up,” Dr. Lameira said. “And he nailed it. He was impressively good at it.”
He added that the finding presents an important step forward in understanding the evolution of human vocal behavior.
“It provides an evolutionary explanation for what we take to be uniquely human behavior, and shows that we’re not that unique in this capacity.”