Thursday, April 12, 2012

TED Talks - Frans de Waal: Moral Behavior in Animals


Frans de Waal is a leader in the field of primate studies - his most recent book is The Age of Empathy: Nature's Lessons for a Kinder Society. This talk is from TEDxPeachtree, filmed in November of 2011, but just posted this month.

A fellow researcher into the emotional lives of animals, Robert Sapolsky of Stanford University (who has spent considerable time studying primates, A Primate's Memoir: A Neuroscientist's Unconventional Life Among the Baboons), says this about The Age of Empathy:
“It’s hard to feel the pain of the next guy. First, you have to notice that he exists…then realize that he has different thoughts than you…and different emotions…and that he needs help…and that you should help because you’d like the same done for you…and, wait, did I remember to lock the car?…and…  Empathy is often viewed as requiring cognitive capacities for things like theory of mind, perspective taking and the golden rule, implying that empathy is pretty much limited to humans, and is a fairly fragile phenomenon in us.  For decades, Frans de Waal has generated elegant data and thinking that show that this is wrong.   In this superb book, he shows how we are not the only species with elements of those cognitive capacities, empathy is as much about affect as cognition, and our empathic humanity has roots far deeper than our human-ness.”
—Robert Sapolsky, author of Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers 
Our view of non-human animals is changing rapidly. Some of the top neuroscientists, such as Antonio Damasio in his recent book, Self Comes to Mind: Constructing the Conscious Brain, suggests that we need to rethink our understanding of consciousness in the animal world.

Frans de Waal: 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).

De Waal is C. H. Candler Professor in the Psychology Department of Emory University and Director of the Living Links Center at the Yerkes National Primate Center, in Atlanta. He has been elected to the National Academy of Sciences (US), the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and the Royal Dutch Academy of Sciences. In 2007, he was selected by Time as one of The Worlds’ 100 Most Influential People Today, and in 2011 by Discover as among 47 (all time) Great Minds of Science.

Read TEDxPeachtree's Q&A with Frans de Waal >>
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