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Chimps Can Trust Humans More Than Their Own Kind March 21, 2014
Chimp hugging a human.
Chimps show flexibility in forming trusted, empathetic connections with different species, including humans.
Despite being hunted by humans for their meat, blasted solo into space and used extensively for medical research, chimpanzees appear to trust people more than they do baboons and members of their own species that they don’t know.

But researchers from Emory University’s Yerkes National Primate Research Center say that’s only the case if the primate has had positive experiences with humans in the past.

Writing in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B, lead author Matthew Campbell says the animals are not “hard-wired” to trust humans in the wild, but learn to do so by studying human gestures as they bond and form empathetic connections with them.

Campbell adds that he believes that the chimps still think that kind and caring humans are different from them, but “an OK kind of different.”

The empathetic response to humans was discovered by examining how the chimps reacted to yawns from various people, members of their own species and baboons.

Yawns are contagious among primates with empathy toward each other.

Researchers found that chimpanzees yawned in sync with humans, as well as trusted family members and chimp friends.

But they didn’t with chimps they didn’t know or with Gelada baboons used in the study.

“I think they may have been conditioned (by exposure) to think that humans are generally OK,” Campbell says. “Therefore, meeting a new human may be an opportunity for a new positive interaction, since that has been their experience.”

Photo: Stock