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Chimps And Bonobos Are Related But Have Very Different Behavior

Chimps and bonobos diverged from each other one to two million years ago.

baby bonobo

Photo: Doug Fisher (Flickr)

A bonobo plays at the zoo.

Scientists have compared chimpanzee and bonobo brains and think their different behavior could be due to brain structure.

Chimps And Bonobos

They diverged from each other one to two million years ago. Compared with their ancestors’ split from humans about six million years ago, that’s pretty recent. Even though they’re closely related, their behavior is very different.

Chimps are more aggressive, and use intimidation to interact with others. They are the warriors. Bonobos, on the other hand, are more tolerant and playful, and use sex to handle their anxiety. They are more aggressive than humans, but considered the “lovers” of the primate world.

Inside The Brain

Scientists think those distinctions are caused by physical differences in the brain.

They used neuro imaging to measure how developed different brain regions are. Bonobos have more developed areas in the limbic system, the emotional part of the brain. Two of those areas, the amygdala and anterior insula are thought to be areas responsible for empathy in humans.

Sensing Stress

They also found that the pathway connecting the amygdala to the prefrontal cortex is larger, giving bonobos better ability to sense another individual’s stress. Chimps have better visual pathways, which would enable them to be better tool users.

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