Placeholder Image

Subtitles section Play video

  • I was born in Den Bosch,

  • where the painter Hieronymus Bosch named himself after.

  • And so I've always been very fond of this painter

  • who lived and worked in the 15th century.

  • And what is interesting about him in relation to morality

  • is that he lived at a time where religion's influence was waning,

  • and he was sort of wondering, I think,

  • what would happen with society

  • if there was no religion or if there was less religion.

  • And so he painted this famous painting, "The Garden of Earthly Delights,"

  • which some have interpreted

  • as being humanity before the Fall,

  • or being humanity without any Fall at all.

  • And so it makes you wonder,

  • what would happen if we hadn't tasted the fruit of knowledge, so to speak,

  • and what kind of morality would we have?

  • Much later, as a student,

  • I went to a very different garden,

  • a zoological garden in Arnhem

  • where we keep chimpanzees.

  • This is me at an early age with a baby chimpanzee.

  • (Laughter)

  • And I discovered there

  • that the chimpanzees are very power hungry and wrote a book about it.

  • And at that time the focus in a lot of animal research

  • was on aggression and competition.

  • I painted a whole picture of the animal kingdom,

  • and humanity included,

  • was that deep down we are competitors,

  • we are aggressive,

  • we're all out for our own profit basically.

  • This is the launch of my book.

  • I'm not sure how well the chimpanzees read it,

  • but they surely seemed interested in the book.

  • Now in the process

  • of doing all this work on power and dominance

  • and aggression and so on,

  • I discovered that chimpanzees reconcile after fights.

  • And so what you see here is two males who have had a fight.

  • They ended up in a tree, and one of them holds out a hand to the other.

  • And about a second after I took the picture, they came together in the fork of the tree

  • and they kissed and embraced each other.

  • Now this is very interesting

  • because at the time everything was about competition and aggression,

  • and so it wouldn't make any sense.

  • The only thing that matters is that you win or that you lose.

  • But why would you reconcile after a fight?

  • That doesn't make any sense.

  • This is the way bonobos do it. Bonobos do everything with sex.

  • And so they also reconcile with sex.

  • But the principle is exactly the same.

  • The principle is that you have

  • a valuable relationship

  • that is damaged by conflict,

  • so you need to do something about it.

  • So my whole picture of the animal kingdom,

  • and including humans also,

  • started to change at that time.

  • So we have this image

  • in political science, economics, the humanities,

  • philosophy for that matter,

  • that man is a wolf to man.

  • And so deep down our nature's actually nasty.

  • I think it's a very unfair image for the wolf.

  • The wolf is, after all,

  • a very cooperative animal.

  • And that's why many of you have a dog at home,

  • which has all these characteristics also.

  • And it's really unfair to humanity,

  • because humanity is actually much more cooperative and empathic

  • than given credit for.

  • So I started getting interested in those issues

  • and studying that in other animals.

  • So these are the pillars of morality.

  • If you ask anyone, "What is morality based on?"

  • these are the two factors that always come out.

  • One is reciprocity,

  • and associated with it is a sense of justice and a sense of fairness.

  • And the other one is empathy and compassion.

  • And human morality is more than this,

  • but if you would remove these two pillars,

  • there would be not much remaining I think.

  • And so they're absolutely essential.

  • So let me give you a few examples here.

  • This is a very old video from the Yerkes Primate Center

  • where they train chimpanzees to cooperate.

  • So this is already about a hundred years ago

  • that we were doing experiments on cooperation.

  • What you have here is two young chimpanzees who have a box,

  • and the box is too heavy for one chimp to pull in.

  • And of course, there's food on the box.

  • Otherwise they wouldn't be pulling so hard.

  • And so they're bringing in the box.

  • And you can see that they're synchronized.

  • You can see that they work together, they pull at the same moment.

  • It's already a big advance over many other animals

  • who wouldn't be able to do that.

  • And now you're going to get a more interesting picture,

  • because now one of the two chimps has been fed.

  • So one of the two is not really interested

  • in the task anymore.

  • (Laughter)

  • (Laughter)

  • (Laughter)

  • Now look at what happens at the very end of this.

  • (Laughter)

  • He takes basically everything.

  • (Laughter)

  • So there are two interesting parts about this.

  • One is that the chimp on the right

  • has a full understanding he needs the partner --

  • so a full understanding of the need for cooperation.

  • The second one is that the partner is willing to work

  • even though he's not interested in the food.

  • Why would that be? Well that probably has to do with reciprocity.

  • There's actually a lot of evidence in primates and other animals

  • that they return favors.

  • So he will get a return favor

  • at some point in the future.

  • And so that's how this all operates.

  • We do the same task with elephants.

  • Now with elephants, it's very dangerous to work with elephants.

  • Another problem with elephants

  • is that you cannot make an apparatus

  • that is too heavy for a single elephant.

  • Now you can probably make it,

  • but it's going to be a pretty flimsy apparatus I think.

  • And so what we did in that case --

  • we do these studies in Thailand for Josh Plotnik --

  • is we have an apparatus around which there is a rope, a single rope.

  • And if you pull on this side of the rope,

  • the rope disappears on the other side.

  • So two elephants need to pick it up at exactly the same time and pull.

  • Otherwise nothing is going to happen

  • and the rope disappears.

  • And the first tape you're going to see

  • is two elephants who are released together

  • arrive at the apparatus.

  • The apparatus is on the left with food on it.

  • And so they come together, they arrive together,

  • they pick it up together and they pull together.

  • So it's actually fairly simple for them.

  • There they are.

  • And so that's how they bring it in.

  • But now we're going to make it more difficult.

  • Because the whole purpose of this experiment

  • is to see how well they understand cooperation.

  • Do they understand that as well as the chimps, for example?

  • And so what we do in the next step

  • is we release one elephant before the other,

  • and that elephant needs to be smart enough

  • to stay there and wait and not pull at the rope --

  • because if he pulls at the rope, it disappears and the whole test is over.

  • Now this elephant does something illegal

  • that we did not teach it.

  • But it shows the understanding that he has,

  • because he puts his big foot on the rope,

  • stands on the rope and waits there for the other,

  • and then the other is going to do all the work for him.

  • So it's what we call freeloading.

  • (Laughter)

  • But it shows the intelligence that the elephants have.

  • They develop several of these alternative techniques

  • that we did not approve of necessarily.

  • So the other elephant is now coming

  • and is going to pull it in.

  • Now look at the other. The other doesn't forget to eat, of course.

  • (Laughter)

  • This was the cooperation, reciprocity part.

  • Now something on empathy.

  • Empathy is my main topic at the moment of research.

  • And empathy has sort of two qualities.

  • One is the understanding part of it. This is just a regular definition:

  • the ability to understand and share the feelings of another.

  • And the emotional part.

  • And so empathy has basically two channels.

  • One is the body channel.

  • If you talk with a sad person,

  • you're going to adopt a sad expression and a sad posture,

  • and before you know it you feel sad.

  • And that's sort of the body channel of emotional empathy,

  • which many animals have.

  • Your average dog has that also.

  • That's actually why people keep mammals in the home

  • and not turtles or snakes or something like that

  • who don't have that kind of empathy.

  • And then there's a cognitive channel,

  • which is more that you can take the perspective of somebody else.

  • And that's more limited.

  • There's few animals -- I think elephants and apes can do that kind of thing --

  • but there are very few animals who can do that.

  • So synchronization,

  • which is part of that whole empathy mechanism

  • is a very old one in the animal kingdom.

  • And in humans, of course, we can study that

  • with yawn contagion.

  • Humans yawn when others yawn.

  • And it's related to empathy.

  • It activates the same areas in the brain.

  • Also, we know that people who have a lot of yawn contagion

  • are highly empathic.

  • People who have problems with empathy, such as autistic children,

  • they don't have yawn contagion.

  • So it is connected.

  • And we study that in our chimpanzees by presenting them with an animated head.

  • So that's what you see on the upper-left,

  • an animated head that yawns.

  • And there's a chimpanzee watching,

  • an actual real chimpanzee watching a computer screen

  • on which we play these animations.

  • (Laughter)

  • So yawn contagion

  • that you're probably all familiar with --

  • and maybe you're going to start yawning soon now --

  • is something that we share with other animals.

  • And that's related to that whole body channel of synchronization

  • that underlies empathy

  • and that is universal in the mammals basically.

  • Now we also study more complex expressions. This is consolation.

  • This is a male chimpanzee who has lost a fight and he's screaming,

  • and a juvenile comes over and puts an arm around him

  • and calms him down.

  • That's consolation. It's very similar to human consolation.

  • And consolation behavior,

  • it's empathy driven.

  • Actually the way to study empathy in human children

  • is to instruct a family member to act distressed,

  • and then they see what young children do.

  • And so it is related to empathy,

  • and that's the kind of expressions we look at.

  • We also recently published an experiment you may have heard about.

  • It's on altruism and chimpanzees

  • where the question is, do chimpanzees care

  • about the welfare of somebody else?

  • And for decades it had been assumed

  • that only humans can do that,

  • that only humans worry about the welfare of somebody else.

  • Now we did a very simple experiment.

  • We do that on chimpanzees that live in Lawrenceville,

  • in the field station of Yerkes.

  • And so that's how they live.

  • And we call them into a room and do experiments with them.

  • In this case, we put two chimpanzees side-by-side.

  • and one has a bucket full of tokens, and the tokens have different meanings.

  • One kind of token feeds only the partner who chooses,

  • the other one feeds both of them.

  • So this is a study we did with Vicky Horner.

  • And here you have the two color tokens.

  • So they have a whole bucket full of them.

  • And they have to pick one of the two colors.

  • You will see how that goes.

  • So if this chimp makes the selfish choice,

  • which is the red token in this case,

  • he needs to give it to us.