Varieties of altruism in children and chimpanzees

Trends Cogn Sci. 2009 Sep;13(9):397-402. doi: 10.1016/j.tics.2009.06.008. Epub 2009 Aug 27.


Recent empirical research has shed new light on the perennial question of human altruism. A number of recent studies suggest that from very early in ontogeny young children have a biological predisposition to help others achieve their goals, to share resources with others and to inform others of things helpfully. Humans' nearest primate relatives, such as chimpanzees, engage in some but not all of these behaviors: they help others instrumentally, but they are not so inclined to share resources altruistically and they do not inform others of things helpfully. The evolutionary roots of human altruism thus appear to be much more complex than previously supposed.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Autistic Disorder / physiopathology*
  • Autistic Disorder / psychology
  • Behavior, Animal / physiology*
  • Biological Evolution
  • Child
  • Child Development / physiology*
  • Cooperative Behavior
  • Disease Models, Animal
  • Humans
  • Interpersonal Relations
  • Models, Psychological
  • Pan troglodytes / physiology*
  • Phylogeny
  • Social Behavior*