That is where empathy and sympathy start—with the synchronization of bodies—not in the higher regions of imagination, or in the ability to consciously reconstruct how we would feel if we were in someone else’s “shoes.” And yet empathy is often presented as a voluntary process, requiring role taking, higher cognition, and even language. Accordingly, most scholarly literature on empathy is completely human centered, never mentioning other animals. As if a capacity so visceral and pervasive could be anything other than biological! To counter such widespread views, I decided to investigate how chimpanzees relate to and learn from one another.
By Frans de Waal