Thursday, May 24, 2012

Distant relatives

An interesting story on the BBC nature site the other day about research into our closest relatives, chimpanzees and Orang-utans. Unsurprisingly the conclusion of the scientific research discussed in the article was that chimps in particular have very similar personality dimensions to humans. The reason I say its unsurprising is that since humans shared a common ancestor with chimps only 4-6 million years ago you would intuitively think that since we are so close genetically and our brains are made of exactly the same "stuff", there must be more similarities than differences between us, which is what observation confirms. The particular dimensions in question are neuroticism, extroversion, openness to experience, agreeableness and conscientiousness, only three of which are observed in Orang-utans, an animal with which we share a common ancestor much further back in time than chimps.

It had always been suspected that human observers of these animals were susceptible to bias since humans just love to anthropomorphize and project their perceptions onto other animals and even inanimate objects and phenomenon (like the Bishop of Carlisle blaming flooding on gay people) This research has tried to eliminate this bias and seems to have shown that chimps do indeed have very similar (if not the same) personality traits as humans.

Maybe it's about time that we started giving the great apes some of the same legal "rights" protections as humans enjoy, we treat them pretty shabbily for distant cousins.


Chairman Bill said...

What? And have the buggers demanding iPhones and wide screen TVs as a right?

Archdruid Eileen said...

You got something against dolphins then?

Steve Borthwick said...

AE, I'm covering Cetacea next week, and don't get me started on kittens.. ;)