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Comparative Perspectives of Empathy Development: Insights from chimpanzees and bonobos

Clay, Z. and Webb, C. E. and Romero, T. and de Waal, F. B. M. (2022) 'Comparative Perspectives of Empathy Development: Insights from chimpanzees and bonobos.', in The Oxford Handbook of Emotional Development. Oxford: Oxford University Press, pp. 277-290.


Empathy - the sharing and understanding of others’ emotions and thoughts - is considered a defining feature of what it means to be human. Although empathy underpins many of our social interactions and is thought to be evolutionarily ancient, its origins remain relatively obscure. Here, this chapter presents research investigating socioemotional development in our closest living relatives, chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes) and bonobos (P. paniscus), to identify the origins of empathy, across ontogenetic and evolutionary timescales. Research on consolation, a form of comforting behavior, indicate that sensitivity to others’ emotional states is present early in great ape life, and that individuals consistently differ from one another in this trait. Mirroring effects shown for human infants, orphan juvenile apes show more disordered socioemotional functioning and reduced empathy as compared to mother-reared peers. These findings suggest a deep evolutionary and ontogenetic basis of empathy and some striking similarities in socioemotional development between humans and great apes.

Item Type:Book chapter
Full text:Publisher-imposed embargo until 12 February 2024.
(AM) Accepted Manuscript
File format - PDF
Publisher Web site:
Publisher statement:The Oxford Handbook of Emotional Development edited by Daniel Dukes, Andrea C. Samson, and Eric A. Walle, 2022, reproduced by permission of Oxford University Press,
Date accepted:12 January 2022
Date deposited:17 March 2022
Date of first online publication:12 February 2022
Date first made open access:12 February 2024

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