Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Chimpanzees, Bonobos, and Us

Are human beings more like chimpanzees or more like bonobos?

Bonobos share a lot of human traits, including many neotenous features, high levels of sociality, and longer infant-mother time together. And they are slightly more genetically similar to humans than are chimpanzees. However, bonobos are matriarchies, rarely hunt, and have more flattened social hierarchies.

Chimpanzees are, like humans, more patriarchical, have social hierarchies, and hunt for meat and for social bonding among males. And, according to new research, they are natural tool users, while bonobos, for the  most part, are not. As the linked article puts it, chimpanzees are more object-oriented than are bonobos.

In many ways, humans are really somewhere between chimpanzees and bonobos in many behaviors. We are more social than are chimpanzees, making us like bonobos, but we tend more toward patriarchical relations. Our social relations are hierarchical in some cases (organizations), flat in other cases (spontaneous orders). In fact, humans have a certain range of behaviors, between the bonobos and the chimpanzees (and many other ranges as well).

In fact, I would argue that while pretty much all humans are tool users because humans have a strong propensity to identically copy what others around them are doing, very few humans are in fact tool makers (or innovators in any way). More, most humans are social, like bonobos, while only a few are object-oriented, like chimpanzees. Indeed, it takes chimpanzees a longer time to copy others' behaviors than it does for humans.

In fact, the most object-oriented people are those on the autism spectrum. Coincidentally, that doesn't seem to be the only feature autistics share with chimpanzees. Also shared is the less social behaviors and the tendency to not do things just because others are doing it that way, but to see shortcuts or different or better ways of doing things.

Object-oriented innovators may be considered more chimpanzee-like, while the average, highly social person may be considered more bonobo-like. It is a range of behaviors that have allowed us to catapult beyond both species.
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