Animal Cognition

, Volume 22, Issue 5, pp 807–823 | Cite as

Spontaneous attention and psycho-physiological responses to others’ injury in chimpanzees

  • Yutaro SatoEmail author
  • Satoshi Hirata
  • Fumihiro KanoEmail author
Original Paper


Previous studies have shown that humans experience negative emotions when seeing contextual cues of others’ pain, such as injury (i.e., empathic pain), even without observing behavioral expressions of distress. However, this phenomenon has not been examined in nonhuman primates. We tested six chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes) to experimentally examine their reactions to others’ injury. First, we measured viewing responses using eye-tracking. Chimpanzees spontaneously attended to injured conspecifics more than non-injured conspecifics, but did not do so in a control condition in which images of injuries were scrambled while maintaining color information. Chimpanzees did not avoid viewing injuries at any point during stimulus presentation. Second, we used thermal imaging to investigate chimpanzees’ physiological responses to others’ injury. Previous studies reported that reduced nasal temperature is a characteristic of arousal, particularly arousal associated with negative valence. We presented chimpanzees with a realistic injury: a familiar human experimenter with a prosthetic wound and artificial running blood. Chimpanzees exhibited a greater nasal temperature reduction in response to injury compared with the control stimulus. Finally, chimpanzees were presented with a familiar experimenter who stabbed their (fake) thumb with a needle, with no running blood, a situation that may be more challenging in terms of understanding the cause of distress. Chimpanzees did not physiologically distinguish this condition from the control condition. These results suggest that chimpanzees inspect others’ injuries and become aroused by seeing injuries even without observing behavioral cues, but have difficulty doing so without explicit (or familiar) cues (i.e., open wound and blood).


Pan troglodytes Injury Pain Attention Skin temperature Emotion 



We are grateful to Dr. N. Morimura and Dr. R. Song for help conducting the experiments. We give special thanks to the staff at Kumamoto Sanctuary, particularly Dr. T. Udono, Mr. M. Teramoto and Ms. E. Nogami, for help conducting the experiments and sharing the image materials. We thank Mr. A. Itahara for help analyzing the data. We also thank Dr. T. Matsuzawa for financial support. This study was financially supported by the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science (K-CONNEX to FK), Japan Society for Promotion of Science KAKENHI (16K21108, 18H05072) to FK, (26245069, 18H05524) to SH, and (16H06283, LDG-U04) to TM, and Great Ape Information Network. We thank Benjamin Knight, MSc., from Edanz Group ( for editing a draft of this manuscript. We appreciate the feedback provided by the editor and two reviewers.


This study was financially supported by the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science (K-CONNEX to FK), Japan Society for Promotion of Science KAKENHI (16K21108, 18H05072) to FK, (26245069, 18H05524) to SH, and (16H06283, LDG-U04) to TM, and Great Ape Information Network.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Ethical approval

All procedures performed in studies involving animals were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institution or practice at which the studies were conducted.

Supplementary material

10071_2019_1276_MOESM1_ESM.docx (680 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (DOCX 681 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Wildlife Research CenterKyoto UniversityKyotoJapan
  2. 2.Kumamoto Sanctuary, Wildlife Research CenterKyoto UniversityUkiJapan
  3. 3.Institute for Advanced StudiesKyoto UniversityKyotoJapan

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