I became interested in this question just today after reading a response to an article. The article is about the psychology of bonobos in contrast with Chimpanzees (title:Score One for Sociable Apes, http://sciencenow.sciencemag.org/cgi/co … 007/308/2) written by Greg Miller. The response to the article was:

"All learned...all speculative research...all instincts. Can a monkey really find remorse in stealing your banana? I will believe in evolution when a monkey sits down and prepares my 1040 tax form for me and gets me a huge refund on my taxes! Tell me ... how many more zillion years until monkeys form their vocal cords?"

I suppose it is obvious that the person who said this is an anti-evolutionist which usually follows being a person knowing very little about biological evolution or the philosophy of science.

My question: Can bonobos empathize with other bonobos, and what evidence is there for this?

In a session of Beyond Belief (http://beyondbelief2006.org/), an experiment was mentioned. I'm not familiar with the details of the experiment, nor am I sure if this the experiment was carried out at all, but the experiment suposedly done on a group of chimps (maybe two chimps sharing a cage which would increase their relationship and familiarity with one another). End of story, the chimp refused to eat if it knew the other chimp would be tortured. If this really did happen, would this be evidence that chimps feel guilt, remorse, or have the ability to empathize with other chimps? Sympathize is probably the word I want to use rather than empathize.

Besides that, I've read some articles about mirror neurons. From what I've read, I think that there is corelation between mirror neurons and the ability to sympathize, or simply put oneself in the shoes of another. If mirror neurons are present in bonobos and chimps, then I believe this is evidence that chimps have the ability to sympathize with members of their tribe. I think neuroscientists think this since autists have some sort of "bad" mirror neuron system, and with that -- a poor ability to socialize (read peoples faces etc.).

Thanks for this wonderful webpage.

Fun question!

I am not a primatologist but I try to pay attention to their work as much as I can. I don't know about the Beyond Belief experiment. From what I understand, the answer is yes not only for bonobos but also for regular chimps.  Frans De Waal (among many others) has done some excellent work on chimp/bonobo societies and behavior and found that they share a startlingly large amount of behavioral traits with us.  I'd recommend checking out his excellent books for example.  Maybe others on the site can recommend other authors.

Mirror neurons are pretty interesting stuff!

Just some info on mirror neurones... Mirror neurones are nerve cells that are active both when performing an action AND when you see another individual performing that action. They exist for certain in macaque monkeys and, although for obvious ethical reasons the same sort of single-cell nerve recordings haven't been done in humans, similar parts of the brain are active in the same circumstances in us. The leading neurobiologist, V.S. Ramachandran, has compared them to the discovery of the DNA code in terms of their significance, for the very reasons you mention in your question. They could possibly be important for observational learning (where you learn how to do something by watching someone else do it), for predicting what someone else will do (there are monkey experiments where the same mirror neurone starts firing when an observed human picks up an apple as when the monkey itself EATS the apple), and empathy. So, although mirror neurones haven't been looked for in bonobos (yet), the fact that they exist in monkeys would suggest its likely. Even if it doesn't prove that a monkey FEELS good or bad when it observes something nice or nasty happen to another individual, it's tantalisingly close and certainly mirror neurones are an important clue to how primates, including humans, are able to learn and repond to social cues. Ramachandran has written a thought provoking essay at http://www.edge.org/3rd_culture/ramacha … an_p1.html on possible links betwen mirror neurones and the evolution of language.