Home > Science > Spite is a Uniquely Human Emotion

Spite is a Uniquely Human Emotion

Colin Barras writes in the New Scientist:

It used to be easy to separate man from beast. Then we realised animals, too, can experience sophisticated emotions and communicate through language. But there is one thing that is beyond even our closest relatives, chimpanzees. And that is the ability to be spiteful.

Keith Jensen and his team at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology at Leipzig, Germany, conducted experiments in which they placed a food-laden table in front of a caged chimp.

Attached to the table was a string the chimp could pull to collapse the table. The chimp resisted the urge to pull the string as long as the food was within its reach. But when the researchers moved the food to the opposite side of the table, the frustrated chimp collapsed the table in 30% of the trials.

In a second experiment, the researchers placed a second chimp in a cage at the opposite side of the table. Moving the food across the table now benefited the second chimp at the cost of the first. If the first chimp wanted to be spiteful, it could simply collapse the table and prevent its rival from feeding. But the chimps tested merely showed the same level of frustration as before, collapsing the table 30% of the time.

But if the second chimp attempted to move the food closer to itself, by pulling a string of its own, the first chimp reacted angrily, collapsing the table 50% of the time.

Read the complete text >>

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