Humans might not be the only ones that understand when others harbour mistaken beliefs.
The delight of slapstick comedy lies in watching the mistakes of unwitting players, and new research shows that apes just might get the joke, too. A study published on 6 October in Sciencesuggests that, like humans, chimpanzees and other apes can infer the beliefs of others — even when those beliefs contradict reality — and anticipate their errors1.
The findings, which counter many previous studies, could fuel the debate over whether humans are unique in their ability to recognize the desires, beliefs and internal thoughts of others — a concept known as theory of mind.
In previous studies, chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes) have seemed to grasp some aspects of the goals, knowledge and perceptions of others2. But chimps, monkeys and other primates have consistently failed to demonstrate an understanding of others’ false beliefs — a key component of theory of mind2, 3. Children younger than age four had also historically failed many of these tests4, supporting the idea that understanding false beliefs requires sophisticated thinking that develops later in childhood.
There has also been shown to be theory of mind in elephants and dolphins. But "empathy" goes all the way down and exists in all mammals and birds that care for their young after they are born. Crocodiles are social reptiles which communicate with each other using calls, and there is a report on the news today about a wild crocodile who made friends with a man, which would require rudimentary forms of empathy (such as emotional contagion).
Crocodiles are also unusual among reptiles in that they care for their live young for a few months after they are born. I don't think that many, if any, other reptiles do this. Here again is the link between empathy and caring for young (and targeted helping.)
A lot of what humans tend to think of as their sole domain, is simply a continuation of millions of years of development.
There is overwhelming evidence that even relatively simple organisms can learn, meaning that a life experience can be incorporated into a "worldview", and future actions can be then influenced by that worldview.
As for the monkey business in the article, simply watching wild versions trick others in their clans, shows that they had to have an idea of another monkey being wrong...and HOW TO make that monkey make a mistake, and, how to capitalize on it.
IE: One monkey is hoarding a decent fruit tree, and not sharing, so, Con-Monkey pretends to find fruit and make a lot of eating and satisfaction noises out of sight but in earshot of the "mark"...
...so the mark monkey leaves his decent stash to go find the new stash that sounds like a windfall, and the con-monkey dashes over and steals the mark's REAL stash, while the mark is wandering around trying to find the fake/decoy stash.
The OTHER monkeys who SAW that the con-monkey was doing a con, wait until the mark monkey went by...and then dashed to get the real stash too.
If you can't conceptualize that the other monkey would be fooled, you would not WAIT to rush his stash, as, that indicates to the mark that his stash was the target...exposing the con, or at least triggering a potential defense by the mark of the real stash.
If no concept of the "con" was at play...the second the mark left the stash, a barrel of hungry simians would rush to the unguarded stash.
As they instead wait, they "know" that:
1) Con monkey is trying to fool the mark monkey. (What another monkey would be thinking can be manipulated)
2) If they act too soon, the mark monkey will see them and react, returning to his real stash...but if they wait, the mark will continue further away, allowing them to rush the unguarded stash. (What ANOTHER monkey WOULD think, an if/then proposition)
Its not something a Planaria could improvise, but simians seem to do these things.
On a complex but perhaps simpler example, a badger and a fox might team up to catch prairie dogs, etc. One covers one escape route, and one the other...and one attacks while the other waits.
If BOTH attacked, the prey would stay in the burrow, between them. If only one attacks, the prey makes a run for it out the escape hole.
To coordinate, they essentially need to know if the OTHER critter is going to attack, or not. If not, they know they need to, if not, they know they have to cover the escape route.
They do NOT share the kills though, so, its an interesting scenario in that they KNOW that if they are flushing, the OTHER guy gets the food and they get nothing...and yet they still both cooperate.
I think this shows how empathy is necessary for cooperation, and since humans are so good at empathy, this makes them good at cooperation too.
Quite likely the badger/fox totals evened out over time, as they probably have a long term relationship.