Einstein Science Reporting for Kids
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2-Mar-2006

Contact: Science Press Package
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American Association for the Advancement of Science

Chimps try to help




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How many people have you helped today? Did you help your brother find his shoes before school? Did you lend a pencil to your best friend in math class? Did you help your soccer coach put away the balls after practice? If you did, you must be a human. Humans are some of the most helpful animals around. We lend a hand to our family, our friends, sometimes even strangers. Other animals aren't even close to being that helpful--or are they?

Scientists working in Germany decided to find if chimpanzees could be as helpful as 18-month old human babies. If chimps are just as helpful as babies, the scientists thought, then maybe humans aren't as special as we think when it comes to helping others out.




Click here for a high resolution photograph.

First, the scientists gave some adults easy jobs to do, like stacking books or trying to reach a toy. In front of the babies, the adults pretended that the jobs were too hard for them to do. The babies understood right away that the adults needed help. They helped the adults stack the books or reach the toys.

Later on, the scientists brought in three young chimpanzees named Alex, Alexandra and Annet. In front of the chimpanzees, the adults pretended again that they were having trouble doing the easy jobs. The chimps figured out how to help the adults reach the toy, but they weren't very good at helping them with the other jobs.

The scientists think both the chimpanzees and the babies wanted to be helpful, but the chimps couldn't always figure out when the adults needed help. So a chimpanzee might not be the best animal to ask for help with your homework, but at least it's nice to know that he might help you if he could.

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This new research, from Felix Warneken and Michael Tomasello of Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Germany, will be published in the 3 March 2006 issue of the journal Science.