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Like chimpanzees, humans may console victims of aggression out of empathy

Social closeness, level of threat affected likelihood of physical consolation behaviour

Like chimpanzees, humans may console their threatened peers out of empathy, according to a study published May 31, 2017 in the open-access journal PLOS ONE by Marie Rosenkrantz Lindegaard from the Netherlands Institute for the Study of Crime and Law Enforcement (NSCR), The Netherlands, and the University of Copenhagen, Denmark, and colleagues.

Consolation is generally defined as an uninvolved bystander initiating friendly contact with a victim of aggression. Previous research has suggested that children and chimpanzees console their peers, but there is little research on consolation in human adults.

The authors of the present study analyzed real life CCTV footage of 249 individuals who were present in the immediate aftermath of 22 commercial robberies. They investigated whether the social closeness (for example, age similarity or being employees of the same business) and gender of the victim and the bystander affected the likelihood of physical consolation behaviour, such as a touch on the arm or a hug.

The researchers found that social closeness, rather than physical proximity, was  important in determining if a bystander would console a victim, which is consistent with the theory that bystanders console victims when they empathise with them. While females were more likely to console a victim, both male and female victims were equally likely to be consoled. Finally, a victim in a more threatening situation was more likely to receive consolation.

The authors suggest that these patterns resemble previously observed post-aggression consolation behaviours in chimpanzees, indicating that both humans and chimpanzees may be motivated to console their peers out of empathy. The authors emphasize that comparative research across different species can provide insight into the mental lives of animals, and should have implications for practices in behavioural science and animal research.

More information
Marie Rosenkrantz Lindegaard: MLindegaard@nscr.nl, 020 59 85 388

Read also this article in The Washington Post: Chimps and people console victims in surprisingly similar ways

Credits picture: Shutterstock

dr. Marie Lindegaard

About dr. Marie Lindegaard


Marie Rosenkrantz Lindegaard is an anthropologist and researcher at the NSCR. Her work focuses on the social mechanisms behind violent acts and victimisation, cultural explanations for crime, and situational approaches to violence. She specialises in ethnographic methods with particular attention to observational methods including analysis of CCTV footage.

Marie is a member of the Criminal Events Cluster.

See the website of the Video violence group.

Link to personal website.

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2017

Antokolskaia, M V; Coenraad, L M; der, Lans Marit Tomassen-van; van den Berg, C J W; Kaljee, J; Roorda, H N; Bijleveld, C C J H; Finkenauer, C; de Groot, G; Dirkse, M; Schellevis, T; Sijtesema, M C

Evaluatie pilot preventie vechtscheidingen en pilot regierechter echtscheidingen Technical Report

Raad voor de Rechtspraak 2017.

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