Dr. Frans B. de Waal is an expert in the social intelligence of monkeys and apes. His was one of the best talks at Idea City this year, I wish I could have heard much more. Here are a few highlights:
- All mammals tested show empathy. Pet dogs, for example, have similar levels of empathy to a 1 year old child. Apes console each other.
- Emotion is contagious -- in the same way yawns are catching
- Some birds may also have empathy
- Elephants have a sense of self-identity -- when they are presented with a mirror (an elephant sized one), they do all the things that other clever creatures do. They try to look behind the mirror. They do funny things with their trunks to see if the mirror is "mirroring" them. And once satisfied that they are indeed looking at themselves, they check out the parts of their bodies that they can't see without a mirror.
- Monkeys have a sense of justice, and an aversion to inequity
This last one is pretty interesting. Dr. de Waal devised a test where monkeys perform a task and get a treat, either a piece of cucumber or a grape. A grape is a better treat than a chunk of cucumber, if you are a monkey.
When two monkeys can see each other performing the same task, they expect to get the same treat for their work. When one gets a better treat than the other for the same job, the one getting the cucumber gets upset. That monkey will reject the bit of cucumber, even throw it away, then will withdraw, show signs of anger, and act hurt and depressed.
No wonder workplace compensation is such a minefield. More importantly, for those of us in customer experience work, we have a sense of justice and fairness that is deeply rooted in our genes. No-one is going to fool you by passing off some bit of cucumber when there are grapes to be had.