Science finally caught up to last week's episode of 30 Rock on Monday, when a biologist from Emory University announced the results of research which discredit the theory that humanity is nasty (and naughty) by nature.
According to researcher Frans de Waal, new studies on animals from primates to mice show there is a biological basis for behavior such as cooperation.
Until recently, the common scientific view was that humans, inherently "nasty" at their core, had been forced to develop an unnatural veneer of morality in order to function as a society.
De Waal countered that human children — and most higher animals — are "moral" in a scientific sense, because they need to cooperate with each other to reproduce and pass on their genes.
As evidence of his claims, de Waal provided video from laboratories which revealed the "dramatic emotional distress" of one monkey denied a treat that another received, and of a rat giving up chocolate in order to help another rat escape from a trap.
According to de Waal, these findings prove that social tendencies such as "reciprocity, fairness, empathy and consolation," occur naturally, in the wild.
But don't feel bad if a rat gives up chocolate to help a fellow rat in need and then acts like he doesn't even know you when you pass one another in the hall. De Waal also noted that the animals studied were most empathetic to animals they were familiar with from their "in-group."
"It's experimental for the human species to apply a system [of empathy] intended for [small groups] to the whole world," he admitted.
Which makes this whole "Olympic spirit" thing kind of a gamble.
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