Cannibal Chimps and Their No-Good, Truly Awful Headlines
It was just a little bit, the primatologist said. But a little bit of cannibalism goes a long way in shaping headlines (and humans' views) of chimpanzee behavior.
Nature documentaries might as well be HBO shows. Or at least that's how humans would like them to be. Most of us prefer the Circle of Life's drama over the tedium of what actually happens in everyday life, and the way we write about that drama reveals deeply ingrained biases about how we perceive and judge animal behavior. It comes down to how humans perceive and judge themselves.
In the chimpanzee research community, this tension drives to debates about aggression versus affiliation says Kelly Boyer Ontl, a visiting assistant professor in the Department of Social Sciences at Michigan Tech. Ontl, who has studied chimp groups in West Africa, explains that some researchers think chimpanzee interactions are inherently violent and self-serving—full of conflict—but others think that their behavior is inherently diplomatic and group-focused—based on cooperation.
Often, aggression versus affiliation (with a heavy emphasis on the former) plays out in the headlines about chimp behavior. Take, for example, the headlines throughout this story. They're all based on a study that came out in January; one that Ontl contributed to and her adviser, Jill Pruetz from Iowa State University, led.
If it bleeds, it leads, right? Read the full story.