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Research Suggests Altruism Doesn’t Exist, At Least in Humans and Primates

Monkeys keep tabs on who owes them something, and you don't want to be in monkey-debt.


Sharing is caring, but you’re lying if you say you don’t expect something in return, and science knows it. Researchers looked at 32 studies of primates and human foragers, and the evidence points to the fact that when sharing food, we want something out of it. Ass, gas, or bananas. Nobody rides for free.

The research was done by anthropologists Adrian Jaeggi and Michael Gurven, and they recently published their work in theĀ Proceedings of the Royal Society B journal. They think their findings make a case that true altruism simply doesn’t exist in primates. While it seems we all want something in return when sharing, they did find some differences in what primates and humans expect to get back.

For apes and monkeys, if they share a piece of food, they expect to get food in return later, but if humans in foraging societies share food, they’re willing to accept something else in return.

What primates and humans have in common though, is that they all keep tabs on who owes what to whom. The real lesson here is if you borrow a banana from a monkey, you better give that monkey a banana. Otherwise you might find yourself in some kind of banana monkey loan sharking situation. If you wait too long that monkey’s going to want two bananas, then ten bananas. Monkey vig’s not cheap, and where are you going to get that many bananas? You think bananas grow on trees?

(via Proceedings of the Royal Society B, image via Roanish)

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