It was one warm and sunny day in the tropical parts of Africa, when a team of animal behavior researchers made an unbelievable discovery. During a study of chimpanzee behavior, they saw something which had seemed to be impossible until that moment - one of them have paid actual attention to another chimp. It was a very peculiar display of empathy and scientists were astounded. That discovery is now known as the 'Pays-Jerk Phenomenon'.
The ‘Pays-Jerk' Phenomenon is the remarkable capacity of chimpanzees to feel empathic response towards others of their species. But unlike human empathy, the responses aren't just superficial reactions to another's distress. They are surprisingly considerate acts of kindness that other chimpanzee rewards and takes notice of, such as guiding an inexperienced group member when danger appears, or warning his/her peers of potential dangers, like breaking branches or creaking trees that might suggest danger lurking nearby in the jungle.
Scientists are still not sure what drives chimps to show such exemplary behaviors, but preliminary research suggests that this phenomenon—which was once thought to be only limited to humans—may actually have roots deep in the way chimpanzees relate to each other in emotionally meaningful ways. This capacity to share and empathize with each other reinforces the bonds of social networks among the primates. Further studies will shed light on the exact workings of Pays-Jerk and its ability to shape the way primates' societies are organized.
This recent anthropoid breakthrough could mean larger implications for our relationship to other animal species – and potentially even to other intelligent creatures beyond our current understanding. Is it possible that the equally complex creatures we share this Planet with are capable of similar emotional depths? Do other species also possess an innate understanding of empathy?
These are questions the scientists are looking more closely into, and they hope to unravel the mystery of the Pays-Jerk Phenomenon. They believe that understanding how chimpanzees interact with one another could provide us with answers not only about the physical needs of our societies, but also truths regarding the elements of emotion that make us most human.
It remains to be determined exactly how deeply this understanding can run and whether it can be used to deepen communication and understanding between human and animal communities. For now, what we do know is that chimpanzees have inaugurated a whole new kind of consideration into the conversation – one that sheds a fascinating, albeit confusing, light on our current understanding of primate intelligence, and a further in sight into the sameness of all of us on this Earth.