Thursday, May 17, 2012

Primatologist says humans may be nice by nature

Hugs, and our capacity for empathy, go way back in our evolutionary history, says primatologist Frans de Waal.

In the decades following the devastation of World War II, the idea that humans are naturally “killer apes,” with a stronger tendency toward aggression than pacifism, gained credence and became a dominant theme in behavioral research.

“Although it is far from my intention to depict us as angels of peace, this literature is now recognized as one-sided,” writes Emory primatologist Frans de Waal in the journal Science. His article, “The Antiquity of Empathy,” is part of a special issue on human conflict.

Humans are biologically geared to find pleasure in eating, sex, nursing and socializing. “If warfare were truly in our DNA, we should happily engage in it,” de Waal writes. “Yet soldiers report a deep revulsion to killing, and only shoot at the enemy under pressure. Many end up with haunting memories and disturbed social lives. Far from being a recent phenomenon, combat trauma was already known to the ancient Greeks, such as Sophocles, who described Ajax’s “divine madness,” now known as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).”

Read the whole article here.


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