Frans de Waal on What Chimps Can Teach Us About Ourselves

Frans de Waal
I’m Alan Alda, and this is C+V, conversations about connecting and communicating.
Male chimps are very opportunistic. They’re always after power. So if I can get it with your support, I will do that. But if I meet a better friend or one who is a bit stronger or a bit more loyal than you are, I will switch to the other friend.
Oh, so it’s like Congress?
Yeah, just like politicians. But it’s only the males who are like that. The females, they stick with their friends. The females have certain friends. They never have a conflict with their friends, for some reason. I don’t know how they manage to do that. But they have these very stable, lifelong friendships. But the males are very strategic and always opportunistic, and always
Frans de Waal began studying chimpanzees when he was a student at the Burgers Zoo in his native Holland. For the last 30 years he’s been the director of the Living Links Center at the Yerkes National Primate Center in Atlanta. I’ve long admired his insights into the social lives of chimpanzees and what they reveal about the roots of our own behavior. I also admire his skill at sharing those insights in several best-selling books. His latest is the poignantly titled Mama’s Last Hug: Animal Emotions and What They Tell Us about Ourselves.

Alan: 00:00:00 Frans, I’m so happy that you have a chance to talk with us today. Ever since I first visited you at Yerkes where you observed chimps for so long, I’ve thought about our meetings, and I’ve thought about how they relate to us as humans and how similar we are to our cousins. You’ve really been at the forefront of helping us understand that.
Frans: 00:00:26 Thank you, yeah.
Alan: 00:00:28 It’s just what you’ve offered us, a glimpse into who we are by observing the other animals. The title of your latest book, Mama’s Last Hug, is really where I think we ought to start because that story of Mama’s Last Hug is so central to, in a way, understanding who we are and what makes us who we are. How did you know Mama?
Frans: 00:01:04 Oh, I started my studies as a young student at Burgers’ Zoo where she was already alpha female at the time, so I’ve known her for 40 years. I studied her carefully at the time and then I left. Each time I left for the US, but each time I came back, maybe once a year, once every two years, she would recognize me even among hundreds of visitors. She would pick me out and she would want to say hello. Later in the day I would go to her night cage because they lived on a big island, and I certainly couldn’t go there. But I would go to her night cage where she would get food, and I would talk a little bit with her. We were friends for a long time.
The professor who did the last hug with her was my professor at the time, so he also knew her for 40 years. He was about 80 when he went into the night cage with her to say goodbye, because she was dying and she was very weak. We normally go never in [crosstalk 00:02:08] in their right mind.
Alan: 00:02:08 Yeah. They’re much stronger than we are. They’re about three or four times stronger.
Frans: 00:02:14 Yeah, the males are supposed to have five times human male arm strengths, and the females maybe three and a half times. So you don’t want to mess with the chimpanzees.
Alan: 00:02:25 And they’re kind of unpredictable, I gather.
Frans: 00:02:27 Yeah. Yeah, they can be unpredictable, yes.
Alan: 00:02:30 And yet he felt he could trust her because he knew her so well, and I guess got signals from her that it was safe.
Frans: 00:02:40 He knew her so well, but also she was very weak at the time.
Alan: 00:02:42 Yeah. So even if she changed her mind…
Frans: 00:02:43 She died two weeks later. Yeah. But yes, she was very positive. There was no moment of [crosstalk 00:02:51], and so-
Alan: 00:02:50 There is a wonderful description in your book about how she put her arms around him in a very warm embrace and patted him on the back, almost reminding me of how I would pat my daughters on the back when they were one year old.
Frans: 00:03:09 Yeah. She calmed him down instead of the other way around. She must have noticed that Jan van Hooff was nervous to get in the night cage, because we normally never do that. So she was surprised, but also she reacted to his nervousness also.
Alan: 00:03:27 That’s a striking story, but in a way, for me, even more striking was how she got to be the Mama of the troop. She seemed to be an expert politician.
Frans: 00:03:40 Yeah.
Alan: 00:03:41 She could resolve disputes just by anointing somebody as being okay or what. Explain that. How did that work?
Frans: 00:03:53 She was the only one, because she was the alpha female. She was older than most, and she was so highly respected that in the middle of a fight, she could just walk in the middle and stop it. Other females, if they would do that, they would probably get beaten up. But no one was going to do that to her.
I still remember a case where we had a young alpha male who was not very accepted by the group. He imposed his will, so to speak, but they also chased him on occasion. So the whole colony had chased him into a tree, and he was in the top of the tree screaming. He couldn’t get out. Each time he came down, the other chimps would chase him back up.
After 15 minutes or so of that, Mama very slowly, because she was a very slow female, she slowly climbed up that little tree. She touched the alpha male, and she kissed him, and she brought him back down. And no one objected anymore. She was a bit the representative of the colony, like if she decided to do that, then it was okay. If somebody else had done that, I’m sure it would not have been okay.
Alan: 00:05:03 Excuse me. What gave her the power to do that?
Frans: 00:05:10 I don’t know. I think in chimpanzee females it’s mostly personality and age. It’s that combination. It’s that some females rise to the top, but they will only rise to the top after a certain age. The younger females, even if you have, let’s say, some 25-year-old females, and Mama is, let’s say, 50, and she is very slow-walking and certainly not physically up to particular, the young females cannot dominate an older female. I think in human society it’s not so different. Older women usually dominate over younger women, I would say.
Alan: 00:05:44 But somehow, in a mixed male/female environment, they not only dominate over the females, but they have the power to interrupt power struggles among the males. And that seems to go against the idea of the alpha male, to me, the way I understand it in a rudimentary way. How does it work? How does she exert her personality over these people?
Frans: 00:06:10 Yeah, it’s funny. It’s funny that you say that, because people have the idea that the alpha male can do whatever he wants; he’s boss, and he can do whatever he wants. That’s not really true. For example, if a high-ranking female like Mama has a big watermelon, because in captivity we give them that kind of thing, and she’s not sharing, then the male cannot take it from her. He could physically take it from her, the alpha male, but if he were to do that, she would start screaming and raising hell, and there would be lots of other females who would support her, and they would go after that male. And he might keep his watermelon, but he would have lost female support.
The whole system in chimpanzees is a very political system as the alpha male cannot be alpha without support of a substantial part of the group. And so he has his buddies, of course; there are other males who help him. But he also needs female support. So the alpha male has to be careful with a female like Mama because he needs to keep her on his side. That gives her an enormous amount of power.
The younger females don’t have that. The younger females, they don’t influence the political processes like that. And Mama even went so far as that she would enforce her will. So let’s say she prefers a certain male as alpha male, and she supports him in his contests with other males. If there was a female who picked another male, she would go against that female. She would let it be known very clearly, physically, that this was not her choice and that the other female better falls in line and supports the male that she wants.
Alan: 00:07:45 It’s such interesting idea that they have a very detailed and intimate knowledge of the political structure of their group.
Frans: 00:07:56 Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Alan: 00:07:57 And the interesting thing to me is that as you describe it, there’s a balance of power, apparently, between the alpha female and her associates among the females of the tribe and the balance between them and the alpha male; and yet when push comes to shove, at the end of the day, they do support the presence of an alpha male. It’s not as though they turn it into a matriarchy, right?
Frans: 00:08:31 No, the bonobos do that, actually. Bonobos are equally close to us as chimps, and the females, there usually is an alpha female who is alpha over everybody, including the males. So the bonobos go that far. But in chimpanzees, the males are really built like bodybuilders. They have enormous canines; they have enormous muscles. No, and they are enormously driven to be at the top. So yeah, a male chimpanzee is really something special in that regard.
Alan: 00:08:59 And you mentioned the age of the females as being important. I was really interested and surprised to see in the book how you talked about older females as being more attractive as sexual objects than younger females, which doesn’t match the behavior of rich men in our society.
Frans: 00:09:25 No, no, no. We have, of course, plenty of connection between power and sex in our societies, and that occasionally arises a scandal out of it. But yes, the younger women are more objects of male lust, actually, than the older women. And in-
Alan: 00:09:39 And why do you suppose that is? Is that tied to the politics in some way?
Frans: 00:09:46 No, I think it’s tied to our family structure. We humans, we have pair bonding, so male and female form families together. And in that regard, for, let’s say, an older male who wants to marry or remarry, he better look for a young female if reproduction is the goal, because reproduction is the goal of evolution always. So if reproduction is the goal, then you’re better off with a younger woman than with an older one. And that’s because we have that particular family structure with male, female, offspring, which chimps and bonobos don’t have at all.
In chimps, for example, the males are not involved at all in offspring care. So they may actually go for a female who has proven that she can get babies and raise them, which may be a smarter strategy for them than going for the younger ones. So in a chimp group, if you have, let’s say, a few young females who are sexually swollen, meaning that their genitals are these pink balloons that they have, if you have a few young females who are like that and you get one older female who is like that and who’s twice as old, all the males will be hanging around the old female. They will not even look at these younger ones because they are not really interested in them.
Alan: 00:10:51 And you think it’s because she’s proven by having other babies, other offspring, that she’s more reliable, and it’s not connected to some advantage they sense from age, experience, political standing? Because they don’t stick with her, right, if they’re not monogamous?
Frans: 00:11:11 No, no, they don’t. They don’t. And of course, the males don’t think in terms of reproduction. Evolution does that for them. They don’t know much about the connection between sex and reproduction.
Alan: 00:11:22 You just drove a thought out of my head that I wanted to ask you about. They’re political. I’m so interested in your understanding of the politics among chimps. I guess we humans tend to think of that understanding of politics as being strictly human understanding. But you talked about … Did you call it a “triadal” understanding?
Frans: 00:11:44 Yeah, triadic awareness, they call it. Yeah.
Alan: 00:11:51 Triadic awareness, yeah. So go ahead. What is that?
Frans: 00:11:56 Triadic awareness. We humans use it all the time. You go to a party, and you know who is married to whom. Even if they’re not standing next to each other, you know this one is married to the other one. That is triadic awareness. You know not only your own relations with other people, but you also know of their relations between them. You see, for example, a child walking in your street. You know to which family that child belongs. That’s triadic awareness. It’s not just your relation with the child; it’s also who is that child connected to.
And chimpanzees are excellent at that. Chimpanzees know all these connections, like who is friends with whom, who is dominant over whom, who is an enemy of whom. And they exploit that kind of knowledge all the time.
Alan: 00:12:38 You told me once, and I treasure our conversations over the years, over the decades… You told me once about three chimps you had studied and come to know who had changing relationships, changing allegiances among the three of them. Two of them would gang up on the third, and then they’d switch, and the third would gang up with one of the other two against the third one. And they kept changing until one of them was severely beaten and died, I think, right?
Frans: 00:13:13 Yeah.
Alan: 00:13:14 Now, what would cause that kind of shifting of allegiance?
Frans: 00:13:22 Yeah, male chimps are very opportunistic. They’re always after power. So if I can get it with your support, I will do that. But if I meet a better friend or one who is a bit stronger or a bit more loyal than you are, I will switch to the other friend.
Alan: 00:13:40 Oh, so it’s like Congress? That’s the way Congress [crosstalk 00:13:40].
Frans: 00:13:41 Yeah, just like politicians. But it’s only the males who are like that. The females, they stick with their friends. The females have certain friends. They never have a conflict with their friends, for some reason. I don’t know how they manage to do that. But they have these very stable, lifelong friendships. But the males are very strategic and always opportunistic, and always [crosstalk 00:14:03].
Alan: 00:14:03 So because they’re not monogamous, I guess the females don’t exhibit something that we would call jealousy?
Frans: 00:14:13 No, there’s very little of that. And also in the bonobos, there’s very little of that. So the males may have that, because the males are very into with whom they mate and who has the right to mate and so on. For females, that’s very different. So in societies where you don’t have monogamy, you don’t have family relationships like that, with male, female, offspring, there’s no need for female friendship because it doesn’t change anything to their position.
Alan: 00:14:41 This awareness of the relationships, it seems to be played out in another kind of awareness. I was on Scientific American Frontiers, this science show I did on public television, to demonstrate one of their experiences with chimps. They sent me in dressed as a scientist with a huge hypodermic, which, well, they don’t like it anymore than I do.
Frans: 00:14:41 Which chimps don’t like, for sure.
Alan: 00:15:17 So there was one chimp [crosstalk 00:15:19] who could see me enter the enclosure with the series of cages. There was another chimp who could not see me. But the first chimp gave up a warning cry when he saw me, and the second chimp then became aware because of that communication that there was a dangerous scientist in the room. And that, they felt, indicated an awareness of what another chimp was thinking. Well, it was the theory of mind idea, that you can make some kind of a judgment or figure out to some extent what another person is thinking.
But their point of view was… and I’m interested to know what you think of this… that humans have a more extended version of that. I can try to understand what you are thinking about Mary, who is thinking about Bill, who is thinking about Jim. And I can extend my understanding of the group to more than one or two other people. But when you talk about the triadic awareness, it seems to be limited to three people.
Frans: 00:16:38 Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Alan: 00:16:39 Have I mixed up ideas here?
Frans: 00:16:43 Yeah, so theory of mind, as it is called, was discovered in chimpanzees. So that’s the irony of the whole thing, when people now say that only humans have theory of mind. The discovery of it came from chimpanzee work by David Premack in the ’70s. And he had a chimpanzee named Sarah that he did tests with, and he had her watch TV and things like that. And he concluded that she had a basic understanding of the intentions and the knowledge of others, and he called it theory of mind.
Very soon thereafter, there were scientists, like in the decades later, who would say, “No, no, only humans have theory of mind. That is not something that chimpanzees have.” And we got that whole debate, and the test that you described, all these tests were being done until recently, until about two or three years ago.
People finally did a false-belief task, which is a very complex… It’s hard to explain what the task is. But it’s the ultimate test of theory of mind, and they did it on chimps, bonobos, and orangutans in an eye-tracking study. So instead of asking them questions, they measured where they looked on a computer screen where a problem was being presented to them. And they concluded that chimpanzees and the other apes are like two- or three-year-old children who passed that eye-tracking task that they designed. So now we’re back to square one, in that both and humans have theory of mind. That’s the consensus now again.

Alan: 00:18:12 The idea that we humans have abilities that are not shared by other animals is… We keep trying to stake out an area that we alone have. And your book and your years of work seem to knock out most of those differences.
Frans: 00:18:35 Yeah.
Alan: 00:18:37 Because of my limited understanding of other animals, I had said to my wife Marlene a couple of weeks ago, “You know, I have a feeling that the ability to laugh is probably ours alone.” And then I read in your book it’s not true. You got a version of laughter. Tell me about that.
Frans: 00:18:58 Yeah, the idea comes from Aristotle, who said only humans laugh. And he also literally said that when babies don’t laugh, they have no soul. Only when they start laughing, they have a soul. So [crosstalk 00:19:13].
Alan: 00:19:13 [crosstalk 00:19:13] another mistake made by one of the smartest people who ever lived.
Frans: 00:19:19 Yeah. So laughing, actually, the laugh expression and the laughing sound is very common in play among apes. And when apes tickle each other, or if I tickle an ape, young apes, they have the same tickling spots as kids, under their armpits, in their belly. They do the same thing as kids. If you tickle them and you move your hands away, they’re waiting for you to come back, because even though they push your hands away, they want to be tickled. And they have these laughing sounds, like, “Uh, uh, uh,” type. It is much softer than in our species, but the facial expression and the sound are very similar. And so laughing is really not limited to us.
And there’s also indications for sense of humor. So people would say, “Yes, maybe the apes, they laugh on occasion, when they play. But we also laugh at amusing situations.” But I have many examples of the sense of humor in the apes. And we don’t have experiments, unfortunately, [crosstalk 00:20:16] we need more experiments on this. But if you play a [crosstalk 00:20:20]-
Alan: 00:20:19 But you’ve observed that. You’ve observed them laughing in amusing situations. What would be one?
Frans: 00:20:23 Yeah, absolutely. So one was a colleague of mine who had a panther mask, and he would hide in the bushes at the Burgers’ Zoo. And the chimps would be on the island on the side of the moat, and each time he would show his face out of the bushes with the panther mask on, they would get very upset, the chimps. They would start throwing stuff at him. It became a very unpleasant and very smelly business.
He would stick his head out multiple times. At some point he stood up, and very clearly, he took the mask, and he took it off his face. And so now, all of a sudden, the chimps saw this man that they knew. Several chimps, including Mama, they had this big laugh expression on their face, as if they thought this was sort of an amusing situation here. So yes, there are indications that they have a sense of humor too.
Alan: 00:21:13 This reminds of me of… Gr[aham 00:21:15], help me. Or maybe Frans knows. Who studied laughter in [inaudible 00:21:23]?
Graham: 00:21:24 [inaudible 00:21:24].
Alan: 00:21:24 Provine.
Frans: 00:21:25 In rats.
Alan: 00:21:25 You know, Robert Provine studied laughter in humans.
Frans: 00:21:30 Oh yeah. Yeah, I know him, yeah.
Alan: 00:21:31 And his conclusion was very interesting. I’ve observed my fellow humans, and it really seems to be borne out that most of the time that we laugh, we’re not laughing because something is funny; we’re laughing as a social cue to the other person that everything is okay and we mean no harm. Like someone will say, “Can I put my coat next to you? Ha, ha, ha, ha, ha.” It’s not a funny idea to put your coat next to somebody.
Frans: 00:22:00 Yeah, [crosstalk 00:22:01].
Alan: 00:22:01 But it’s a way of signaling that there is no aggression going on. Do you observe something like that among chimps?
Frans: 00:22:12 Yeah, it’s a very important signal in humans. So for example, if I walk up to you and I slap you on the back, and I do it without an expression on my face, you’re going to be confused, like, “What is he doing here?” But if I laugh at the same time, you say, “Oh, it’s fun. It’s playful.”
And in chimps, certainly, their play faces always… We call laughing, usually, the play face. The play face is always used to signal good intentions. A male may be, let’s say, dragging down a female and biting in her back and all of these things that could interpreted as aggression by the female. But if he does it with a playful sound and a playful expression, she thinks it’s fun, and she will have a laugh expression also. There’s sort of rough wrestling between the two. So their interpretation of what happens between them is completely dependent on their facial expression.
Alan: 00:23:02 What does that look like? What does the play face look like?
Frans: 00:23:07 Like a human laugh. It’s an open mouth with… Usually the lips cover the teeth, so the teeth are not bared. It’s an open mouth, and it has a laugh sound with a, “Uh, uh, uh” type sound.
Alan: 00:23:20 I get the impression from reading your writing that sometimes the teeth being shown looks aggressive and sometimes it is not aggressive. What’s the difference?
Frans: 00:23:35 Yeah, their teeth may be shown in an aggressive way if you stare at the other, and you don’t bare them very much. But a lot of teeth-baring is more like an appeasement. It’s more like, as in humans. We smile in order to appease others, to be friendly, to signal our non-hostility.
Alan: 00:23:55 And another aspect of the difference between us and say, chimps, that, we, I think, have… We’ve made a big deal out of our belief that we are aware of death, and other animals aren’t. And I saw in the middle of a road, once, where a cat had been run over, and another cat was sitting, looking from the posture as though it was mourning. I immediately assumed that I was reading something into it. But you’ve seen them aware of death, kind of incontrovertibly, I think.
Frans: 00:24:42 Yeah. I think that the great apes, and also some other species like dolphins and elephants, they certainly have an awareness of death of the other. Whether they know that they themselves one day are going go die, which we call the sense of mortality, that, we don’t know. But they certainly have a very strong reaction to the death of somebody else, and they know, I think, that it is irreversible.
So let me give you an anecdote on this. And this is not even between chimpanzees and bonobos. In the bonobo sanctuary, the females had found a deadly snake, a venomous snake. They were poking it with sticks, and they were very afraid of it. And at some point, the alpha female grabbed the snake by the tail and hit it against the ground multiple times until it was dead. From that moment on, all of a sudden, the juveniles, who had stayed away from this dangerous scene, the young bonobos came over and grabbed the snake and draped it around her neck and started parading around with it and playing with it as if they realized the snake is dead; it’s not going to come back. So they knew that it was an irreversible process.
And we see the same thing when another… For example, when an infant dies, a female chimp has a baby, the baby dies, you see an enormous change in her behavior, that the baby may have been sick before, but now it is dead. And the female becomes depressed; it doesn’t eat anymore, starts screaming at random moments. She’s extremely distressed. And we know from studies on rodents, actually, that there is also physiological stress very similar to the cortisol levels that we humans have when we are grieving. There’s a physiological response also.
Alan: 00:26:25 And with everybody dying around them eventually, either violently or from old age, is there any way that you’ve thought about to try to test what their awareness of their own death might be? I was wondering if you’ve ev-
Frans: 00:26:44 How would I test that? That’s the question.
Alan: 00:26:44 Yeah, I know.
Frans: 00:26:44 What would I see?
Alan: 00:26:47 That’s why I asked you. I wondered if you’ve thought about that and tried to crack it somehow.
Frans: 00:26:56 No, I don’t know how I would do that, unless I do some terrible experiment. But that’s not the sort of thing I want to do.
Alan: 00:27:07 No, this connection that you have with them emotionally, and from the way you describe it, their emotional connection that’s possible with you, is something that I imagine that people through your career have accused you of as being anthropomorphic and imposing your belief of your consanguinity with these people, with these chimps, unfairly. Has that been a problem in your career?
Frans: 00:27:40 Well, not so much with my colleagues, I think, because other primatologists, they know how this works, as you can feel very close to these animals; you can actually be very close to them, as I am, and certainly in captivity, more so than the people in the field, maybe, so that you know them personally, and they greet you and all of these things.
But you can still collect objective data. I think all primatologists know that, that you… We have rules of how we collect data and how we categorize them and how we define certain behaviors. We have rules for that. That is not something I can change. And so when I stand on the tower, let’s say, that overlooks my chimpanzees, where you also were one time, and I look at them and I have a tape recorder or a video recorder to record their behavior, that, I can do without any interference of my preferences or aversions.
But it important to get along with them if you do certain experiments. For example, I do experiments on, let’s say, cooperation or food-sharing and so on. The chimps don’t want to work with people that they don’t like, and so you have to get along with them, otherwise you cannot do these things.
Alan: 00:28:46 I loved what you said about people who complain about your possibly being anthropomorphic about the animals, that you have a term for them. They’re anthro-[inaudible 00:29:03]. What is it? Anthropodenialists.
Frans: 00:29:07 They’re in anthropodenial. So the anthropodenial is the opposite of anthropomorphism. We are being accused of anthropomorphic; if you say, “My dog is jealous,” they say, “Don’t be anthropomorphic,” even though everyone who has a dog know that dogs can be jealous. But we’re not allowed to use these terms, and so they give us all sorts of terms that we can use, like if chimpanzees kiss, you have to call it “mouth-to-mouth contact.” Or if they reconcile, you call it “post-conflict behavior.” Or if they laugh, we call it “vocalized panting.”
We have all these terminologies that they want us to use to stay away from human terminology. But by doing so, we create a distance that is not really there. We artificially, by our language, start to create a distance that doesn’t really jibe with evolutionary theory, which says we are very similar; we have similar expressions and probably similar emotions. And so I prefer to use the anthropomorphic terms, certainly, with animals close to us, like the primates.
And I think people who don’t do that, they are in anthropo-denial. They deny the connection between us and them. They deny that we humans are animals. And if you look at academic life, the departments of anthropology, philosophy, some parts of psychology, the humanities, they are all in anthropodenial. They’re all stressing how we humans are something special and something different.
Alan: 00:30:33 And yet I get the impression that you go to great pains, great lengths, to check that you yourself are not imposing your own ideas, your own biases, on chimps [crosstalk 00:30:48], as any scientist would.
Frans: 00:30:53 Yes. For example, in the emotion research, I make a distinction between emotions and feelings, because I, as a scientist, cannot know the feelings of a dog or a chimp. I cannot even know your feelings. Like you may tell me that you’re sad or that you’re happy; I don’t know how that feels in your case. And I may have a better idea in your case than with, let’s say, chimps, but still, feelings are hard to know. And so in my study of the emotions of animals, I usually say I cannot know exactly what the feelings are, but emotions, I can measure; I can see them in the face and hear them in the voice, and it changes odor, blood pressure, heart rate, cortisol levels. It changes all sorts of things in the body, and I can measure those things.
Alan: 00:31:37 [crosstalk 00:31:37] tell me more about that, because it sounds to me like emotions and feelings are the same thing. I’ve always generally thought that an emotion is a feeling of a certain kind of. So help me with that. I don’t get it yet.
Frans: 00:31:53 Yeah, it’s because… I think emotions are bodily states that prepare you for certain actions. So for example, fear or… Let’s take fear, actually. Fear withdraws blood from the extremities, and that’s why humans get “cold feet,” we call it. That’s our fear response; we get cold feet. And rats, for example, they get cold feet and a cold tail, also. So that the whole bodily response of fear is very similar and prepares us for action, because when we’re fearful, we need to either freeze and hide or escape or fight.
Fear prepares us for some danger. We need to meet the danger and the fear, and the fear response activates the amygdala in the brain also in humans and in rats. And so we know that the bodily changes associated with fear are very similar across the board, and they evolved in order to keep us safe.
Now, the feeling of being afraid and the feeling of fear is a sort of conscious state that is a private state that is not necessarily measurable. So whether you feel fearful, I’m not sure I can measure that. You can talk about it; you can explain it to me. So we communicate that by language, but the feeling of fear is hard to measure.
Alan: 00:33:18 So one is a bodily state that you can measure.
Frans: 00:33:22 Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Alan: 00:33:25 What are some emotions besides flight or fight that you could measure?
Frans: 00:33:35 For example, attachment and love. Love is not even listed in the six basic emotions. The psychologists are very fond of the six basic emotions that we share with other species and that are universally human [crosstalk 00:33:47] love is not on the list. Love and attachment.
Alan: 00:33:49 What are some of the six? So I’m not up on that. What are the six?
Frans: 00:33:54 The six are anger, fear, disgust, joy… No, [crosstalk 00:34:02] too.
Alan: 00:33:54 But love’s not among them?
Frans: 00:34:02 But [crosstalk 00:34:02] six basic ones.
Alan: 00:34:02 And love is state you can measure…
Frans: 00:34:05 No, love is not in there.
Alan: 00:34:08 … by the amount of oxytocin, the hormone oxytocin in the blood? Is that right?
Frans: 00:34:14 Yeah. Attachment, we find in many animals, even if fish. But let’s just stick with the mammals and the birds, where, for example, mates are bonded for life sometimes, where you have friendships for life; you have mother-offspring relationships which are certainly bonded. And so we can measure how strong the bond is, how much time they spend together, separation anxiety; we can measure oxytocin levels and the effect of oxytocin on bonding. So I’m not sure that I can measure love, because love is a feeling.
Alan: 00:34:46 Now I’m starting to get it now, so thank you.
Frans: 00:34:46 But I can measure attachment.
Alan: 00:34:49 I appreciate that. Thank you. I’m interested in [crosstalk 00:34:53]. I was interested to see that bonding between two mates, that that’s more prevalent among birds than even among humans or chimps. Is that right?
Frans: 00:35:07 Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Alan: 00:35:08 I mean, we think of ourselves as monogamous, although the… We seem to have it as an ideal more than as a practice.
Frans: 00:35:18 Yeah, we are imperfectly monogamous.
Alan: 00:35:18 Observed more in the breach.
Frans: 00:35:21 Yeah.
Alan: 00:35:22 So one of the things that they do… the other animals called “chimps”… one of the things that they do that we also do, which in a way was a surprise when I first heard about it, was murder each other.
Frans: 00:35:39 Yeah.
When we come back, Frans describes how a brutal murder sparked his fascination with how chimps and other animals make up after fights. And I share a reconciliation moment of my own when a young chimp offered me what appeared to be an apology after slugging me in the jaw.

This is C+V, and now back to my conversation with Frans de Waal.
Alan: 00:35:41 I think you’ve spent a great deal of your life trying to understand reconciliation, which, if I’m not mistaken, came out of your study of a particular murder among chimps. Tell me about that. I just know a little bit about it.
Frans: 00:35:58 Yeah. So in the Burgers’ Zoo, when I was a student there, two males ganged up on a third male and basically killed him. Well, he was not dead when I arrived, but he died soon thereafter. So yeah, it was a very brutal murder. He lost a lot of blood. He lost his testicles, also. And at the time, actually, since this happened at the zoo, we thought maybe it’s a product of captivity; maybe it’s our fault that they are together, these males, and they do these things.
But now we know from work in the field that there’s at least 10 cases of males within the group who have killed each other. There’s lots more cases of males between groups, so between different groups, who have killed each other. So killing of other males is not really that rare in chimpanzees. But at the time, I was very affected by it; in addition, the male who was killed was one of my favorite males, so I was very affected by the whole thing.
And since I had already discovered that chimpanzees reconcile after fights and that they kiss and embrace each other after fights, I thought, “I need to pay attention to this. I haven’t done enough on this.” And my fellow scientists were not taking reconciliation very seriously because at that time everything in the animal world and actually also for humans, was about selfishness and greed and competition and who wins and who loses. We had a very cynical view of human nature and also of animal nature, and reconciliation behavior didn’t fall under that.
So I decided, “Well, I’m still going to study it. I think it’s an important behavior.” We are now maybe 300 studies further by all sorts of people. We know that reconciliation’s very common in all sorts of species, all sorts of social species… dolphins, elephants, wolves, hyenas. All sorts of social animals have reconciliation [crosstalk 00:37:54].
Alan: 00:37:54 It always interests me to think about our behavior towards our enemies after World War 2, where we built up their economies, became partners with them in the well-being of all our populations. And I always think, “Why couldn’t we do that instead of the fight, before the fight?” We need the fight to reconcile from and act in a rational way that benefits everybody. It’s a strange thing. We’re driven toward the fight, apparently.
Frans: 00:38:31 Yeah, that’s also in marital relationships. There’s lots of conflicts, of course, and people cycle through these conflicts and reconciliations. There’s [inaudible 00:38:42] who did studies on married couples, who would arrange in the lab… He would arrange a fight between people who were married, and then he would measure all their physiological responses and how they reconciled or did not reconcile.
For him, the most important part of marriage was not so much how much conflict they have, but what they do after the conflict. How do they handle the conflict? That was the important part. But you would think if people cycle through these things, like conflict and reconciliation, why don’t they just stop the conflicts, and everything would be fine.
Alan: 00:39:12 Right. There’s the term “make-up sex,” I think, when you make up for the fight.
Frans: 00:39:16 Yeah, that’s another one.
Alan: 00:39:18 So in a sense, maybe sex is more attractive if it’s making up than if it’s just sex. I don’t know. I mean, why do you need…? [crosstalk 00:39:26] Is a violent argument foreplay? That’s a question I’ve never heard asked before.
Frans: 00:39:34 Yeah. Yeah, I know. Chimpanzees do little of that. But bonobos, of course, they have a lot of sex related to conflict, and that’s their main means of reconciliation [crosstalk 00:39:42].
Alan: 00:39:41 Right. I wonder how that would appeal to our army of diplomats around the world? You’d have to get a new… Yeah.
Frans: 00:39:49 Yeah. The bonobo style, it would not go over so well.
Alan: 00:39:52 Yeah. I think I experienced once the reconciliation moment. I was allowed to go into the cage with a very young chimp who had been raised in captivity, and, I think, had been born in captivity and was being trained how to live in the wild so that it wouldn’t be dependent on the keepers anymore.
And as you’ve mentioned, they’re a little unreliable. So he was cute as a button as I sat with him, but at one point, he just slammed me in the face with his fist and knocked me over. He was over a little guy, but he knocked me over like a ton of bricks.
Frans: 00:40:39 I see.
Alan: 00:40:40 And I was a little surprised. It didn’t hurt too much. I was a little surprised. But then they said, “Oh look, he’s apologizing.” He held out his hand toward me with his fingers closed and the top of his fist facing up, [inaudible 00:40:59] kind of not like a fist, but like a cupped hand turned over. And I don’t know if that sounds familiar to you the way I’m describing it.
Frans: 00:41:09 Mm-hmm (affirmative). Yeah, he wants to put [inaudible 00:41:13] probably, because that’s what chimps do. They put the back of their hand into the mouth of the other, which is sort of an apology. Yeah, [crosstalk 00:41:21].
Alan: 00:41:21 Oh, yeah, I don’t think I’d let him get near my mouth, because him having hit me in the head…
Frans: 00:41:27 No, you were probably afraid of this.
Alan: 00:41:27 Yeah.
Frans: 00:41:30 But in the meantime, he had gained important information.
Alan: 00:41:32 Oh tell me. Tell me about that. Like what? What was the information?
Frans: 00:41:34 Like [crosstalk 00:41:34] knocked over.
Alan: 00:41:35 That I didn’t hit him back?
Frans: 00:41:37 He had gained information that he can knock you over, which is of course-
Alan: 00:41:42 Oh, I didn’t realize he was doing research on me.
Frans: 00:41:47 No, yeah, the chimpanzees are always in one-upmanship. “Who can I dominate?” And they will always try things out. I think he had learned one small thing about you, and if you would have stayed in that cage for a long time, he would probably [crosstalk 00:42:02].
Alan: 00:42:01 That’s so interesting. But meanwhile, he ameliorates it a little bit by offering me this peace gesture?
Frans: 00:42:09 Yes, sure. He’d still want to stay friends with you, but in an upward position.
Alan: 00:42:15 That’s so interesting. Tell me about what you’ve learned about reconciliation. I may not represent the general public, but I find that there are many stories in books and plays and movies where people have a very serious conflict, like between mother and daughter. And the end of the play is the reconciliation of those two people, and it’s very moving. And there seems to be in us a very strong desire to reconcile, and I’m wondering if it’s born into us the way it’s born into the chimps that you study.
Frans: 00:43:07 Yeah, I think it is. We humans, of course, also have trouble reconciling, so you may have a father or son who had a falling out, and they will never reconcile. Actually, forgiveness and reconciliation is very good for your health. There’s studies on that and that if you never reconcile with certain family members or your spouse or whatever, you’re going to have a very stressful life. So people who are good at this, it’s actually good for their own immune system and for the immune system of the other.
So we sometimes have trouble, but we are born with some peacemaking tendencies. And you can see those in many species. Many species have societies in which conflict is inevitable because we have conflicting interests, but these animals also depend on each other and need to get along because their survival depends on being together. That’s the whole reason animals live in groups, is because they do better in a group than they do alone; otherwise, they would certainly be living alone. So society is based on this principle of cooperation is good, but conflict is inevitable. So then you need to find a middle way, which is reconciliation [crosstalk 00:44:20].
Alan: 00:44:20 You say an interesting thing, that there’s a lot of violence and displays of, I guess, threats of violence in a chimp colony. And you say, and isn’t that very much like the way we keep order in a human society? The threats of violence may not be on the surface or obvious, and the threats of retaliation for those violent moments may not be there… may not be so obvious. But there are laws that promise punishment if we transgress. So it sounds like it’s very similar. We mask it; we don’t admit it. It’s one of the reasons we call them “animals” and don’t include ourselves in the group. We don’t seem to like that but…
Frans: 00:45:16 Yeah, we follow these rules. I have my car parked here in the parking lot. If I walk up to another car and open that car and drive away with it, if I could, I would end up in prison, probably. So even though my behavior seems extremely orderly… I walk back to my car, and I drive away with it… there are very bad consequences if I do this. And we all know all these consequences, and we know what we can do and what we cannot do. So it is largely invisible, all these rules that we have to follow.
But I think in a chimpanzee society, that happens the same way, as if you introduce food, for example, and one of the lowest-ranking females walks up to the food and claims it, well, all hell is going to break loose, as she has to wait. She has to wait for the others. And she may get a share from somebody… that would be great… but she certainly cannot just walk up to the food. And so they follow these rules, and behind these rules is violence, also in human society, that make us behave in certain ways.
Alan: 00:46:20 And yet once that’s enforced, or once the idea is introduced that you better not behave that way or there will be dire consequences, once that happens, in order to get back to a normal state of easy relations, you’ve got to introduce reconciliation. In all your descriptions of Mama enforcing order in the colony, I seem to always see her then, once order is restored, going up and hugging or kissing the person who was the malefactor.
Frans: 00:46:58 Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Alan: 00:46:59 So that’s part of the orderly system, it seems.
Frans: 00:47:06 Yeah, the best illustration of that is what happens between males when they’re in a power struggle. So you may have two males. One is alpha male, and another one starts to challenge him. And he runs by him and tries to intimidate him, see how he’s doing, but like that young chimpanzee who hit you in the face, just see what happens and see how they react. And if the alpha male is a bit nervous about it, they will notice, and they will start pressuring more and throw bigger rocks at him and stuff like that.
So he keeps testing him out, and then at some point when he is able to overthrow him, usually with the help of some others, because they rarely do these things on their own, if he then overthrows the alpha male, then you get these very interesting scenes where they’re waiting for the alpha male to submit. The previous alpha male now needs to crawl through the dust, literally. He needs to bow and pant-grunt. It’s called “pant-grunting.” It’s a submissive sound.
He needs to bow for the other one, and if he doesn’t do that, then the pressure keeps on, and the new alpha male will keep beating him up or intimidating him until one day… and this may take weeks… one day, that old alpha male, he’s going to submit, and he’s going to crawl through the dust.
And from that moment on, they will have a perfectly fine relationship. From that moment on, he has accepted the new alpha position of the young male, and they will be fine. They will groom each other, and they will reconcile, and they will get along. They may even share fruit. They may even play together, because now the relationship becomes much more relaxed because the dominance has reversed, and both of them recognize it. It’s very interesting that the hierarchy… People always think that the hierarchy and the power structure are suppressive. But they also make relaxed relationships possible, so it’s not so [crosstalk 00:48:56].
Alan: 00:48:56 And does the older alpha male, the previous alpha male, does he go down a notch or two, or does he go all the way? It sounds like he doesn’t go all the way to the bottom. He can become the friend of the new alpha male.
Frans: 00:49:09 Yeah. If he has been a good male in the alpha position, he will just drop a few places. If he has been a bully and terrorized everybody and beat everyone or bit everyone, you have a chance that he’s expelled. In the wild, that happens.
Alan: 00:49:25 [crosstalk 00:49:25] that’s an interesting notion that in a society where order is enforced through violence, it sounds like everybody’s a bully, and all the bullies are vying for top “bullyness.” And yet you’re saying that they make distinctions about bullying.
Frans: 00:49:44 Oh no, no, no. No, no. No, the alpha male is not a bully. The alpha male… a good alpha male… keeps order, needs to reinforce his own position, of course. That’s the bullying part. But he is a peacemaker. As soon as there’s a fight, he will step in and stop the fight. He will support the underdog, usually. If, let’s say, a female is attacked by a male, he’s going to support the female; even if that male is his best buddy, he’s going to support the female. He will share food with everyone. He is the Consoler in Chief. As soon as someone is distressed, he goes over and embraces them and calms them down.
So a good alpha male is much more than a bully. And they can become extremely popular, and if they lose their position, they become popular in the group. A bully… We also have sometimes in chimpanzee society males who are terrible and terrorize everyone. They may end badly. So that has been observed in the wild with males who have been expelled or have been killed by the group. And if that happens in captivity, we often need to take a male like that out after he has lost his position, just for his own protection.

Alan: 00:50:54 There seems to be memory at work here to a great degree. In fact, I think I remember you telling me that… When we met years ago and we were standing on the platform watching the compound, I think you were telling me that they actually remember the amount of grooming they get from another person and will respond in kind, almost as if its arithmetic going on.
Frans: 00:51:25 Yeah, [crosstalk 00:51:25].
Alan: 00:51:25 So that they remember the behavior of the alpha male and can judge where he’s going to be once he’s no longer the alpha male. Tell me about that ability to remember.
Frans: 00:51:38 So yeah, we did a study where in the morning we would just measure who grooms whom in the chimp colony, because in the morning they always spend a few hours just sitting around and grooming each other. And we would take measures of that. And then later in the day, we would introduce food. We would give them, for example, bundles of leaves, low-quality food, but they like to eat those things. And that’s food that is shareable for them, and so we would throw in a few bundles like that and see who shares with whom.
And if you do that, many times you can statistically connect the two. You can see if I have been grooming with you in the morning, and you get the food in the afternoon, it’s my chance of getting some of that food increased. And that’s in each case. They seem to remember these grooming sessions, and they seem to repay the favors that they have received. So there is basically memory-based reciprocity going on.
And there’s not so many species for which we have that evidence, but in chimpanzees, that seems to be… A chimpanzee society is basically an economy where you exchange sexual favors and political favors and grooming and food-sharing. There’s all these favors that you do each other, and you have an economy of it.
Alan: 00:52:56 And what… Excuse me. You reminded me of something when you were saying that the shared keeping track… Left my head, sorry. Graham will cut that out. My memory loss is [inaudible 00:53:18]. Graham, did you have any thoughts before we move on? Can’t hear you. Still can’t hear you.
Graham: 00:53:29 [inaudible 00:53:29].
Alan: 00:53:29 Yeah.
Graham: 00:53:31 [inaudible 00:53:31].
Alan: 00:53:41 Yeah.
Graham: 00:53:41 [inaudible 00:53:41].
Alan: 00:53:49 Right. Did you hear that, Frans? Can you hear him? No? Okay. Okay, and-
Frans: 00:53:54 No, I cannot hear anything.
Alan: 00:53:56 This brings up an interesting thought to me, because since we began talking years ago, I’ve wondered if human sense of morality is indirectly or directly related to our cousins’ understanding of reciprocity and fairness. We have a sense of fair behavior from other people. You’ve really studied that, haven’t you? Fairness among chimps?
Frans: 00:54:29 Yeah, yeah. We do experiments on the sense of fairness in both chimps and monkeys. It started with a very simple study that we did on capuchin monkeys together with Sarah Brosnan, a student of mine. We discovered that these monkeys pay attention to what others get. Now, you would think that’s maybe fairly normal. But if you have these monkeys trained on a very simple task and you give them food, they’re not just keeping track of what they did and how much food they got, but they also look at what the neighbor is getting for the same task.
Yeah, and so they shouldn’t be doing that. I think they should just pay attention to what… But they do that, and humans do that, of course, also. If I have the same job as you and I make twice as much money, you will notice, and you will be a bit upset about it, you know? We have the same thing between men and women. Should they get the same salary or different salaries? That [crosstalk 00:55:26] discussion. Anyway, [crosstalk 00:55:26]-
Alan: 00:55:26 But I think you’ve given us today a model for how women can remedy that in the way the females in the chimp colony make their wishes known in no uncertain terms to the males who might not be fair to them.
Frans: 00:55:43 Yeah. Well, actually, if you look at women’s rights, that’s the only way women have gotten rights. For every step, they had to fight. So yeah, you need to make your wishes known. So in the capuchin monkeys, anyway, we started doing experiments to see how they would respond if they get the same rewards, like, let’s say, both monkeys, you give them cucumber slices for the task, or how they respond if you give them different rewards: One monkey gets cucumber slices; the other one gets grapes. And grapes are 10 times better than the cucumber slices.
So then we do these experiments, and we found that the monkeys get very upset if they get less than the other. They don’t want to perform; even though normally they’re willing to perform 25 times in a row for cucumber slices, if the partner is getting grapes, they do it maybe three times, and then they become angry, and then they stop.
And so we did that with the capuchins, and then later we did it with chimps. And the chimps go further than the capuchins in the sense that the one who gets the grapes may also refuse to perform if the other one doesn’t get grapes. And so the chimpanzees-
Alan: 00:56:48 Wait, tell me that again. Say that again. That’s really interesting.
Frans: 00:56:54 Yeah. In chimps, the one who gets the better rewards may also refuse if the other one doesn’t get the better rewards.
Alan: 00:56:58 Because there seems to be a sense of fairness at play? They want to impose this fairness on the person who’s giving out grapes and cucumbers?
Frans: 00:57:08 No, my theory is that it’s all about cooperation. Both capuchin monkeys and chimps live in cooperative societies, but chimps are better at thinking ahead, so chimps are better at prediction of future behavior. And I think they realize that if the partner is not happy, if the partner is pissed off because they only get cucumber, they have a bad relationship with their partner. It will harm their relationship. And so they prefer that the partner also gets good food in order to preserve that relationship.
And chimps probably also do that in their hunting context in the wild, because they hunt together. If one of them would always take all the good food and leave nothing for the rest, that would undermine their cooperation, because then the others, why would they work with that individual?
And so I think it’s all cooperation-based, and in human society, that if you get large inequalities in human societies, as we have nowadays in American society, if you get these large inequalities, you’re basically undermining the cooperative nature of the society. You’re basically harming the fabric of society. And we know that, actually, from health data, is that societies that are more unequal, they have also more trouble with health and longevity. So we know there is a connection also in human society.
Alan: 00:58:29 The more equal the people are, the better their health is?
Frans: 00:58:33 Yeah. This has been found [inaudible 00:58:37] in countries like European countries. North European countries are more egalitarian viz the U.S. But it has also been found, by comparing the states within the U.S. In the U.S., the states are not all the same, and if you do this kind of comparison between inequality and longevity, you find the connection between the two.
Alan: 00:58:55 Have you learned anything from the chimps? Excuse me. Have you learned anything from the chimps that you feel we could learn from as a society of humans, if only we… Yeah, sorry, I lost my vocal cords there for a minute. Have you learned anything from chimps that we humans could benefit from if only we were a little more like that?
Frans: 00:59:32 Yeah. I find it’s hard to compare, not because we humans are not comparable with chimps. I think we are very similar in our psychological makeup to chimps. But we live in these very large, anonymous societies now, so that’s a big difference with chimps. Chimps live in small-scale societies, where everybody knows everybody, very much face-to-face kind of societies, the way we humans used to live. Our ancestors lived in that kind of society.
But now, we live in these huge places where people actually can get away with inequality. So you have the 1%, as we call them, the “grape eaters” of this society. And so people can get away with these things that you couldn’t get away with in a smaller-scale society. So it’s a bit hard to compare a chimpanzee community of maybe a hundred individuals with our societies of maybe 300 million individuals. It’s very hard to draw the connections. But in terms of basic psychology and emotional makeup, we are still very similar [crosstalk 01:00:36].
Alan: 01:00:36 It interests me that our inventiveness has given us the opportunity on at least a couple of occasions to separate ourselves from one another. It’s not only that we have great numbers, but when automobile and plane travel became so affordable and easy for us, we tended to leave our families and our local communities and travel great distances from them. And then when the Internet came in and we could separate ourselves in real time from people, even sitting at dinner with them, look at our phones instead of one another. We’ve used our inventiveness to separate ourselves and put ourselves in the position that you were just describing. I wonder if we can outlive our intelligence.
Frans: 01:01:28 Yeah, I don’t think it has made us happier to live like that. But there are certain things now on the Internet, like, let’s say, Facebook, all the social media. People complain about them, but they actually bring us back together again. So for example, I can follow how a niece in the Netherlands who is three years old, how she’s developing, because I’m using Facebook. So I think it has brought us back together in some ways also.
Alan: 01:01:55 As long as we have the impulse that you have to be connected. Yeah, this has been so interesting talking with you, Frans, and I do… Yeah.
Graham: 01:02:05 [inaudible 01:02:05].
Alan: 01:02:05 Yeah, Graham has another question [inaudible 01:02:07].
Graham: 01:02:07 [inaudible 01:02:07].
Alan: 01:02:09 Yeah.
Frans: 01:02:10 Okay.
Alan: 01:02:11 [inaudible 01:02:11].
Graham: 01:02:11 [inaudible 01:02:11].
Alan: 01:02:16 [inaudible 01:02:16], okay, I think I know the answer to this. You clearly enjoy working with chimpanzees. Do you think they enjoy working with you?
Frans: 01:02:30 Some of them do. Yeah, there’s always these individual differences. Some of them may not like me, but then some of them do like me. So yeah, I always enjoy animals. I’ve always loved animals, and whatever they want to do, they want to do, and I’m happy with it.
Alan: 01:02:46 Well, I’m happy talking with you. As always, I really enjoyed this conversation.
Frans: 01:02:51 Thank you.
Alan: 01:02:51 Before we end… I hope you don’t mind. We usually end our shows with seven quick questions that invite seven quick answers. Are you game? Okay, you know, you look a little suspicious.
Frans: 01:03:09 Okay. Uh-huh (affirmative), sure. Yeah, I’m a bit skeptical of what this is going to be [crosstalk 01:03:10].
Alan: 01:03:09 They’re basically questions about relating and communicating. It’s really what you spend your life doing.
Frans: 01:03:14 Okay, right.
Alan: 01:03:14 Here’s the first question. What do you wish you really understood?
Frans: 01:03:25 We talked about feelings and emotions. I would want to know more about the feeling part. So what do the animals feel? My suspicion is that they feel very similar things to what we feel, but it’s hard to know at this point.
Alan: 01:03:37 Next question. What do you wish other people understood about you?
Frans: 01:03:45 About me as a person, you mean?
Alan: 01:03:46 Yeah, or any way you want to interpret it.
Frans: 01:03:51 Yeah. Well, my goal is to bring humans and animals closer together, so that I’m basically driven to explain to humans that they’re animals. And not everyone is open to the message, but many of them are.
Alan: 01:04:07 Next one. What’s the strangest question anyone’s ever asked you?
Frans: 01:04:17 Oh, the strangest question. This is a funny story. I gave a lecture about bonobos one time for an audience in Michigan, for a university audience. I had not realized that there were kids in the room, and so after my lecture, there was like a nine-year-old boy in the front who said… His first question, he said, “What is masturbation?” He was sitting next to his mom, and I said, “Well, your mother will explain it to you.”
Alan: 01:04:17 And she gave you a glare, right?
Frans: 01:04:17 Yeah.
Alan: 01:04:52 Here’s one. How do you stop a compulsive talker?
Frans: 01:05:02 Gee. I will just interrupt him. I’m a man. I think men do that. We like to interrupt. So I will just interrupt the guy in the middle of a sentence and tell my own stuff.
Alan: 01:05:17 The next question. Is there anyone for whom you just can’t feel empathy?
Frans: 01:05:21 Anyone? A particular person?
Alan: 01:05:25 Yeah, or chimp. I don’t know. In your case, I have to broaden the question.
Frans: 01:05:34 Yeah. Well, people who bring disaster on to themselves. Let’s say, someone who is a very heavy drinker and then asks for a liver transplant. I don’t have a lot of sympathy for that kind of people.
Alan: 01:05:45 Okay. Now, how do you like to deliver bad news? In person, on the phone, or by carrier pigeon?
Frans: 01:05:55 I would do it in person.
Alan: 01:05:55 Okay, last question. What, if anything, would make you end a friendship?
Frans: 01:06:07 That would be something like lying or dishonesty or stealing. That’s something I cannot stand, is dishonesty.
Alan: 01:06:17 So let me ask you an eighth question as a follow-up to that one. How is that different? How is your answer different from what would make a chimp end a friendship?
Frans: 01:06:31 I’m not sure I’ve seen chimps end friendships.
Alan: 01:06:34 Oh, they might end alliances, but not necessarily friendships?
Frans: 01:06:39 Yeah. Yeah, I’m not sure. That would probably also be a case, let’s say, the two of us, we’re going to challenge the alpha male, but at the very last moment, you withdraw and don’t support me, which is a very disastrous situation for me. Yeah, that would maybe be a reason for me not to be with you anymore.
Alan: 01:07:02 And do you think you’ve observed that among chimps? Or do they…?
Frans: 01:07:07 Yeah, I think they would be sensitive to that kind of lack of loyalty.
Alan: 01:07:11 One more way in which we’re like one another. Thanks so much, Frans. I really loved talking with you.
Frans: 01:07:15 Yeah. Well, you’re welcome. It was great. Let me know when you put it up [crosstalk 01:07:22] if you put it on the Internet [crosstalk 01:07:22] podcast.
Alan: 01:07:22 Yes. Yeah, I’ll let you know, and you can help promote the talk. And we’ll add later in editing an introduction and a postscript in which we’ll talk more about the book or your other books, and that kind of thing. So we’ll make sure we promote that.
Frans: 01:07:40 Okay. Yep, yep.
Alan: 01:07:42 Thanks so much, Frans. It was great talking to you.
Frans: 01:07:44 Thank you. Yeah.
Alan: 01:07:44 Bye bye.
Frans: 01:07:46 Thank you. Thanks, Alan. Yeah.
Alan: 01:07:46 Good day to you.
Frans: 01:07:49 Good seeing you. Yep.
This has been Clear + Vivid, at least I hope so.

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Frans deWaal started studying primates more than 40 years ago. When he first started, he was told to never consider the emotions of the animals. But much has changed since then, thanks to a body of scientific work and evidence that suggests animals can – and do – express some emotions similar to that of humans.
Frans’ latest book, Mama’s Last Hug, explores this topic in greater detail … and his writing reveals much more about the fascinating ways in which emotion and communication manifest across the animal world. You can find his book online and at most major booksellers.

Frans is now the director of the Living Links Center at the Yerkes National Primate Research Center in Atlanta. Happily his office window looks out on a colony of chimps, so he’s always studying and learning. And you can learn more about Frans deWaal by visiting his lab online at: EMORY.EDU/LIVING_LINKS

This episode was produced by Graham Chedd with help from our associate producer, Sarah Chase. Our sound engineer is Dan Dzula, our Tech Guru is Allison Coston, our publicist is Sarah Hill.

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Thanks for listening. Bye bye!