A passer-by drops something and you spring to pick it up. Or maybe you hold the door for someone behind you. Such acts of kindness to strangers were long thought to be unique to humans, but recent research on bonobos suggests our species is not as exceptional in this regard as we like to think. Famously friendly apes from Africa’s Congo Basin, bonobos will go out of their way to help strangers too. The researchers studied wild-born bonobos at the Lola ya Bonobo sanctuary in the Democratic Republic of Congo. In one experiment, they found that bonobos will help a stranger get food even when there is no immediate payback. Bonobos’ impulse to feel for strangers isn’t entirely under conscious control, the researchers also found. The impulse to be nice to strangers is likely to evolve in species where the benefits of bonding with outsiders outweigh the costs.
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