News & Current Affairs

September 9, 2008

Hugging benefits fractious chimps

Hugging benefits fractious chimps

Chimps at Chester Zoo (Orlaith Fraser)

The consoling arm of a good friend

If you have just had a big falling out with a colleague, there is nothing better than the comforting and consoling arm of a good friend.

Chimps, it seems, feel the same way, according to a study at Chester Zoo.

The research is said to provide the first evidence that consolation in primates, such as hugging and stroking, can reduce stress levels after a fight.

The behavior could indicate some level of empathy, Dr Orlaith Fraser told the British Association Science Festival.

“We can’t actually say what’s going on in a chimpanzee’s mind; we can only deduce from their behavior what’s going on,” the Liverpool John Moores University researcher said.

“Because this behavior is actually reducing stress levels and it’s being offered by a valuable partner, it seems likely that this is an expression of empathy.”

A bit of sympathy

Dr Fraser and colleagues spent 18 months observing 22 adult chimps at Chester Zoo.

They watched closely what happened immediately after the animals had a scrap – perhaps a fight over food, a mate or simply where to sit.

In about 50% of cases, the victim in the fight would be consoled by another member of the group. The soothing was always done by a valuable – or best – friend, a chimp with whom the victim would routinely play or share food.

Chimps at Chester Zoo (S.P.Hill)

Feeling better after a kiss

The consolation usually took the form of a kiss or embrace, a grooming session or even play.

The scientists could see that this activity had the effect of reducing stress levels, indicated by the return to the animals’ normal activities of self-scratching and self-grooming.

“Sympathetic concern” has also been observed in gorillas, bonobos, dogs and even rooks – but it is the calming effect that it had on the Chester Zoo chimps which is said to be a new observation.

“If these chimpanzees are actually motivated by empathy to console victims of aggression, they must first of all be able to recognize that the victim is distressed and then they must know what to do in order to act appropriately to respond to this distress,” said Dr Fraser.

“This is something often thought to be a unique trait to humans, so understanding the link between consolation and stress reduction in chimpanzees is an important step towards understanding whether or not chimpanzees are capable of this level of empathy.”

The results of the Chester Zoo study were recently published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

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August 13, 2008

German ice cream murders probed

German ice cream murders probed

German police examine the scene of the shooting in Russelsheim

Police could not establish a motive for the attack immediately

A huge manhunt is under way after three people were shot dead at an Italian ice cream parlour in a town near the German city of Frankfurt, police say.

The assailant or assailants fled the scene after the attack in the central pedestrian area of Ruesselsheim, 28km (17 miles) south-west of Frankfurt.

German media said the two men killed were Turkish. The woman appears to have been caught in crossfire.

Police said the motive for the attack was unclear.

Officers are using dogs and a helicopter in an effort to find the killer or killers, and have sealed off the center of Russelsheim.

Map

The shooting occurred around 2000 (1800 GMT) at the Eis de Rocco cafe, police told the Associated Press.

First reports had suggested that some of the victims might have been stabbed and that four people had been killed in the incident. A third man – also Turkish – was seriously injured in the attack.

“According to our investigations, more than one person committed the crime. They were all thought to be males, who used guns and were armed at the time of the crime. According to eyewitnesses, a knife was also possibly used,” said police spokesperson Marc Wuthe.

Almost exactly one year ago, six people were shot dead in the town of Duisburg, north-west of Frankfurt, in a shooting blamed on an Italian mafia clan.

Seven people were arrested in connection with the Duisburg deaths.

Mr Wuthe said it was unclear whether Tuesday’s shooting had any link to organized crime.

“We have no idea as to the motive behind the crime. We will investigate all avenues,” he said.

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