TED Talks: Moral Behavior in Animals

Empathy, cooperation, fairness and reciprocity — caring about the well-being of others seems like a very human trait. But Frans de Waal shares some surprising videos of behavioral tests, on primates and other mammals, that show how many of these moral traits all of us share.

Dr. Frans B. M. de Waal is a biologist and primatologist known for his work on the behavior and social intelligence of primates. His first book, Chimpanzee Politics (1982), compared the schmoozing and scheming of chimpanzees involved in power struggles with that of human politicians. Ever since, de Waal has drawn parallels between primate and human behavior, from peacemaking and morality to culture. His scientific work has been published in hundreds of technical articles in journals such as Science, Nature, Scientific American, and outlets specialized in animal behavior. His popular books – translated into fifteen languages – have made him one of the world’s most visible primatologists. His latest books are Our Inner Ape (2005, Riverhead) and The Age of Empathy (2009, Harmony).

“If you ask anyone, what is morality based on? These are the two factors that always come out: One is reciprocity … and a sense of fairness, and the other one is empathy and compassion.”