If someone asked you, “Whatdistinguishes humans fromtheir nearest primitive relatives--apes?”
you might be drawn to one of the following distinctions: in comparisonto humans, apes are quadrupedal, they arehairier, and they have shorter legs. Asidefrom these physical differences, recentresearch has found key differences in thebasic behaviors of the two species.Last October, Dr. Michael Tomasello,developmental psychologist and Co-Director of the Max Planck Institute forEvolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig,Germany, delivered a lecture entitled“Phylogenetic Origins of HumanCollaboration” at Stanford as part of the Tanner Lectures on Human Values, a multi-university lecture series in the humanities. Tomasello found that while humans arealtruistic and subscribe to institutionalizednorms that support cooperation, apes donot. Although apes appear to work in groups just as humans do, they are mutualisticrather than altruistic—individual apes willwork with others to benefit themselvesindividually rather than due to someinherent concern for the wellbeing of otherapes.At the intersection of evolutionaryanthropology, psychology, and biology,this groundbreaking research has largeimplications concerning what it means to behuman.
It’s Mine, It’s Mine
Tomasello focused his research on threesets of processes involved in collaboration:coordination and communication, toleranceand trust, and norms and institutions.In humans he studied collaborativeactivities in which there were joint goals,mutual knowledge, and inter-dependent,coordinated roles. He and his colleaguesalso studied large amounts of video footagecomparing the behaviors of young childrenand apes in potentially collaborativeactivities in order to determine whetherapes cooperate in the same way as humansdo. Tomasello presented a video from a studyby Warneken et al. in which a ping-pongball was thrown down a tube from an adultto a young child. When the ping-pong ballwas dropped by the adult, the child wentout of the way to put the ball back in thehand of the adult. The child also displayedimmediate role reversal, leaving his side of
ETHICS + POLICY
by ELIZABETH BURSTEIN
The origins of human cooperation
Credit: sxc.huCredit: sxc.hu