It has often been suggested by human evolutionists that humans and apes shared a common ancenstry about 6 milion years ago, not surprising given the fact that humans and certain species of apes, such as chimpanzees and bonobos, share approximately 99% of the same genetic plan.
Now, new additional clues to their linkage have been identified by researchers studying primate behavior in Africa.
Zanna Clay, PhD, and Frans de Waal, PhD, of the Living Links Center at the Yerkes National Primate Research Center, Emory University, recently conducted a study of bonobo emotional behavior at a sanctuary near Kinshasa in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. This bonobo sanctuary includes many victims of bushmeat hunting. In the study, they found striking similarities between the emotional development of the bonobos and that of children, suggesting these great apes behaved emotionally in a human-like way.
By using video analysis techniques, they measured how well bonobos manage their own emotions as well as how they react to the emotions of others. Their observations indicated that young bonobos who were raised by their own mothers recovered more quickly and easily from their own emotional upheavals due to traumatic life events than those who were orphaned, and that those raised by their own mothers generally also showed more empathy toward their fellow bonobos when they suffered emotional upsets. The same pattern holds true for human children. For example, Clay noted that the bonobos who were raised by their original parents tended to give more body comfort, such as kissing, embracing, and touching, to those who were in distress, a type of behavior seen among human children, as well.
A similar pattern applies to the overall control of emotions. Bonobos who have been orphaned had greater difficulty managing their emotions as compared to their counterparts with stable original parents. This included the ability to temper strong emotions and avoid over-arousal. In human children, emotion regulation is considered critical to healthy social development. Socially competent children are able to maintain their emotions within bounds. A stable parent-child bond is essential for this, which is why human orphans typically have trouble managing their emotions.
Previous brain research has suggested that the bonobo (Pan paniscus), considered along with the chimpanzee as our closest primate relative, is the most empathic great ape. “This makes the species an ideal candidate for psychological comparisons,” says de Waal. “Any fundamental similarity between humans and bonobos probably traces back to their last common ancestor, which lived around six million years ago.”
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