Chimps and Humans Console Victims Similarly: New Study

An interesting observational study examining the consoling tendencies of humans and nonhuman primates.  Focusing on “social closeness”, the findings (and others) demonstrate that when it comes to comforting others who have been distressed, humans (both children and adults) are a lot like other great apes.


Chimps and people console victims in surprisingly similar ways

Washington Post

The [new study] findings and others show that [when it comes to consoling and empathy behaviors] humans are a lot like other great apes…For both humans and chimpanzees, scientists defined consolation as a friendly touch. Only a few species have been scientifically documented consoling victims of aggression: human children, chimpanzees, bonobos and gorillas.

The new study is

“…the first to observe consolation in adults. Other studies had “concluded that consolation behavior in chimpanzees and other nonhuman primates was similar to humans, but they actually meant human children.” 

–Marie Lindegaard, scientist at the Netherlands Institute for the Study of Crime and Law Enforcement


Abstract: Post-aggression consolation is assumed to occur in humans as well as in chimpanzees. While consolation following peer aggression has been observed in children, systematic evidence of consolation in human adults is rare. We used surveillance camera footage of the immediate aftermath of nonfatal robberies to observe the behaviors and characteristics of victims and bystanders. Consistent with empathy explanations, we found that consolation was linked to social closeness rather than physical closeness. While females were more likely to console than males, males and females were equally likely to be consoled. Furthermore, we show that high levels of threat during the robbery increased the likelihood of receiving consolation afterwards. These patterns resemble post-aggression consolation in chimpanzees and suggest that emotions of empathic concern are involved in consolation across humans and chimpanzees.


“The reaction by bystanders, such as embracing and touching of the victim, is extremely similar.  It is the prototypical empathy response of the primates.”

–Frans de Waal, Primatologist, Emory University


Journal reference: Lindegaard, M.R., et al.  Consolation in the aftermath of robberies resembles post-aggression consolation in chimpanzees. PLOS One, May 31, 2017.