Sunday, January 20, 2013

Does a human sense of fairness exist in chimps?

In all societies around the world, it has been proven that humans have an understanding of fairness. The concept of sharing has been studied among all types of people and it has been found that a sense of justice exists and is realized (though not always acted upon) by our species. The article "Do Chimps Have a Fair Sense of Play? Study Adds to Evolutionary Debate"explores the potential of chimps sharing or expecting to be shared with when put in an unfair situation. 

The behavior of chimpanzees was studied and compared to that of children. The researchers aimed to learn if a sense of fairness developed before the species began to evolve differently millions of years ago. Even though this study concluded that the results of human children and chimps were very similar, proving that an identical sense of fairness exists in both species, it contradicts several studies done in the past. 

The experiment consisted of having two chimps (or children) split up a reward. In the chimp case, the researcher gave one chimp six slices of a banana but asked it to share with a partner. Then it was recorded if the chimp actually shared, how much it shared and how the other chimp reacted. 

The controversy revolving around the experiment consists of the lack of proof that the chimps understood all the rules and their possible options. For instance, the partner always accepted the split whether it was fair or unfair. This can be understood as the chimp settling for whatever was being offered without fairness being considered. 

In my opinion, this is a very intriguing study and certainly an excellent start. However, perhaps the experiment should be expanded to study more situations involving fairness. The nature of the chimps may be quite different from that of humans and that must be taken into account. It is difficult to communicate all of the rules to the chimps and make them understand all of their options. If more mini-experiments were added to this one, the final conclusion would probably be more agreed-upon. 

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