Frans de Waal, a leading primatologist and cognitive scientist, is speaking at York on Friday about his latest book, The Age of Empathy: Nature’s Lessons for a Kinder Society, in which he argues that humans, like other group animals, are “hard-wired for empathy”.
Right: Frans de Waal
Is it really human nature to stab one another in the back in our climb up the corporate ladder? Competitive, selfish behaviour is often explained away as instinctive, thanks to evolution and survival of the fittest. But, de Waal argues, humans are equally hard-wired for empathy. Using research from the fields of anthropology, psychology, animal behaviour and neuroscience, de Waal argues that humans are group animals – highly cooperative, sensitive to injustice and mostly peace-loving – like other primates, elephants and dolphins. This revelation has profound implications for everything from politics to office culture.
De Waal is a psychology professor at Emory University and director of the Living Links Center at the Yerkes National Primate Research Center in Atlanta. A biologist born and educated in the Netherlands, he moved to the United States in 1981. With his discovery of reconciliation among primates, de Waal founded the field of animal conflict resolution research. His scientific work has been published in hundreds of technical articles in journals such as Science, Nature and Scientific American.
The author of five popular books translated into over a dozen languages, de Waal is one of the world’s best known primatologists. Time magazine ranked him among the World’s 100 Most Influential People of 2007. Emory University includes him in its Great Scholars, Great Work series for helping change the way we think of animals, particularly the way we understand apes and monkeys.
De Waal’s first book, Chimpanzee Politics: Power and Sex Among Apes (1982), compared the schmoozing and scheming of chimpanzees involved in power struggles with that of human politicians. He received the Los Angeles Times Book Award for Peacemaking Among Primates (1989), and with wildlife photographer Frans Lanting produced the first and only overview of bonobo behaviour, Bonobo: The Forgotten Ape (1997). His most recent books, Our Inner Ape (2005) and Primates & Philosophers: How Morality Evolved (2006), focus on the origins of morality and culture in the primate world, the sort of things we consider uniquely human. The Age of Empathy is his sixth book.
De Waal speaks Friday at 4pm in 206 Accolade West Building. His talk is sponsored by the Cognitive Science Program in York’s Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies and Canadian publisher McClelland & Stewart Ltd.