, Volume 36, Issue 3, pp 397–410 | Cite as

Empathy in chimpanzees: Evidence for theory of mind?

  • Sanjida M. O’Connell


Empathy can be widely defined as the capacity to understand the emotional, visual, or cognitive perspective of another individual and is perhaps reliant on the ability to attribute mental states. Behavioural events that may indicate empathy in chimpanzees,Pan troglodytes, are collated (1) using a questionnaire and (2) from the literature. These case studies are classified in a taxonomy of empathic acts in which empathy is categorized as visual empathy, emotional empathy, concordance and extended empathy. In addition, the circumstances surrounding the empathic acts are discussed: whether the recipient of the empathic act was a relative, an unfamiliar individual, or a heterospecific. The cost to the animal showing empathy, whether it displayed any levels of intentionality and if it communicated to a third party are also analyzed. Rescuing of an individual from a dangerous social or physical situation is the only category where the animal shows empathy under all the specified conditions. From this preliminary analysis it seems the chimpanzees may be capable of showing empathy across a wide range of circumstances.

Key Words

Empathy Chimpanzees Theory of mind 


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Copyright information

© Japan Monkey Centre 1995

Authors and Affiliations

  • Sanjida M. O’Connell
    • 1
  1. 1.University College LondonUK

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