Friday, March 03, 2006

Study Shows Babies Try to Help

Study Shows Babies Try to Help - Yahoo! News: "Toddlers' endearing desire to help out actually signals fairly sophisticated brain development, and is a trait of interest to anthropologists trying to tease out the evolutionary roots of altruism and cooperation.

Warneken never asked for the help and didn't even say "thank you," so as not to taint the research by training youngsters to expect praise if they helped. After all, altruism means helping with no expectation of anything in return.

To be altruistic, babies must have the cognitive ability to understand other people's goals plus possess what Warneken calls "pro-social motivation," a desire to be part of their community.

No other animal is as altruistic as humans are. We donate to charity, recycle for the environment, give up a prime subway seat to the elderly — tasks that seldom bring a tangible return beyond a sense of gratification.

Other animals are skilled at cooperating, too, but most often do so for a goal, such as banding together to chase down food or protect against predators. But primate specialists offer numerous examples of apes, in particular, displaying more humanlike helpfulness, such as the gorilla who rescued a 3-year-old boy who fell into her zoo enclosure.

The chimps frequently did help out if all that was required was reaching for a dropped object — but not nearly as readily as the toddlers had helped, and not if the aid was more complicated, such as if it required reaching inside a box.

It's a creative study that shows chimps may display humanlike helpfulness when they can grasp the person's goal, University of California, Los Angeles, anthropologist Joan Silk wrote in an accompanying review. Just don't assume they help for the reasons of empathy that motivated the babies, she cautioned."

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