Friday, May 22, 2009

Fun facts

I don't have time for a long post today, so I'd like to use the few minutes I have to share some fun tidbits I've come across in my research.

I'd like to cover some of the topics from this wonderful article about The Forgiveness Instinct later, but for now I'll quote a piece that I find telling as a dog lover:

Chimps kiss and make up in the same way people do. Chimpanzees aren’t the slightest bit unique in this respect. Other great apes, such as the bonobo and the mountain gorilla, also reconcile. And it gets more interesting still, for reconciliation isn’t even limited to primates. Goats, sheep, dolphins, and hyenas all tend to reconcile after conflicts (rubbing horns, flippers, and fur are common elements of these species’ conciliatory gestures). Of the half-dozen or so non-primates that have been studied, only domestic cats have failed to demonstrate a conciliatory tendency. (If you own a cat, this probably comes as no surprise).

On a tangentially related note, I've been wondering: could it be the case that certain breeds of dog (American pit bull terriers come to mind) who are prone to unpredictable attacks (even on their owners) are displaying a trait similar to psychopathy? Or is a separate mechanism at work? Is there any relationship between the two? Might be interesting to investigate later...

This second piece almost makes you respect our fearful cousins, Pan Troglodytes: chimpanzees are vengeful but not spiteful. That is, they will retaliate if specifically harmed, but display no particular antipathy to merely personally disadvantageous scenarios. Leave that one to us.

Jensen said such spitefulness "is the evil twin of altruism." Just as an empathetic person may help someone even when the only reward is feeling good about the charitable act, a spiteful individual could hurt another even when the only reward is enjoying, or gaining satisfaction from, the other's suffering.

This also touches on the concepts of schadenfreude (delight in another's suffering) and its opposite, "mudita" (Sanskrit). The fact that English doesn't have a single word to describe the concept of empathetic joy is perhaps telling, and hopefully I'll get around to writing about the relationship between language and emotion some other time.

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