Altruistic helping in human infants and young chimpanzees

Science. 2006 Mar 3;311(5765):1301-3. doi: 10.1126/science.1121448.


Human beings routinely help others to achieve their goals, even when the helper receives no immediate benefit and the person helped is a stranger. Such altruistic behaviors (toward non-kin) are extremely rare evolutionarily, with some theorists even proposing that they are uniquely human. Here we show that human children as young as 18 months of age (prelinguistic or just-linguistic) quite readily help others to achieve their goals in a variety of different situations. This requires both an understanding of others' goals and an altruistic motivation to help. In addition, we demonstrate similar though less robust skills and motivations in three young chimpanzees.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Altruism*
  • Animals
  • Behavior, Animal
  • Child, Preschool
  • Female
  • Helping Behavior*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Motivation
  • Pan troglodytes / psychology*