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Empathy in great apes – does witnessing the harming of another conspecific influence helping behaviour? (214)

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Aim of this project is to investigate  emphathy and subsequent helping behaviour in a closely related nonhuman primate species, orangutans within the framework of possible roots of human social emotions. The question is whether orangutans are more likely to help a conspecific after witnessing the harming of this individual by a human stealing food from him than when no harming occurred.

In humans, children as young as 18 months are already able to take the emotional perspective of an adult even without any clear signs of the adult’s emotional distress (Vaish, Carpenter and Tomasello, 2009). Based on this paradigm, a similar study is currently conducted with captive apes at the Wolfgang-Kohler Primate Research Center in Leipzig, investigating the emotions expressed after being harmed and the corresponding reaction of conspecifics. This follow-up study will include a much bigger population of orangutans in a care center in Borneo to enable a comparison between captive and semi-wild populations and to study whether orangutans are able to take the emotional perspective of others and how this might influence subsequent helping behaviour.