這時若是一群大象聚在一起，牠們便很可能彼此靠近或以肢體互相接觸。「考量大象之間強烈的社會連結性，不難想像大象間會互相關懷。」共同作者、埃默里大學耶基斯國家靈長類動物研究中心心理學教授Frans de Waal說。
過去Plotnik和Frans de Waal就曾觀察到大象能認得鏡中的自己，這是一種測試自我意識的方法，只有少數猿類、海豚和鵲有此能力。
Asian elephants reassure other elephants in distress with physical touches and vocalizations, finds a study that provides the first evidence of consolation in elephants.
Consolation behavior is rare in the animal kingdom, with empirical evidence previously provided only for the great apes, canines and certain birds in the crow family.
The current study focused on a group of 26 captive Asian elephants living on about 30 acres at an elephant camp in northern Thailand. For nearly a year, the researchers observed and recorded incidences when an elephant displayed a stress reaction and the responses from other nearby elephants.
The initial stress responses came from stimuli such as a dog walking past, a snake or other potentially dangerous animal rustling the grass, or the presence of another, unfriendly elephant.
“When an elephant gets spooked, its ears go out, its tail stands erect or curls out, and it may emit a low-frequency rumble, trumpet and roar to signal its distress,” explained lead author Joshua Plotnik, a lecturer in conservation biology at Mahidol University in Bangkok.
The study found that a nearby elephant would go to the side of the distressed animal and use its trunk to gently touch its face, or put its trunk in the other animal’s mouth.
The gesture of putting their trunks in each other’s mouths is almost like an elephant handshake or hug, Plotnik said. “It’s a very vulnerable position to put yourself in, because you could get bitten. It may be sending a signal of, ‘I’m here to help you, not hurt you.’”
The responding elephants also showed a tendency to vocalize.
“The vocalization I heard most often following a distress event was a high, chirping sound,” Plotnik said. “I’ve never heard that vocalization when elephants are alone. It may be a signal like, ‘Shshhh, it’s okay,’ the sort of sounds a human adult might make to reassure a baby.”
Elephants frequently responded to the distress signals of other elephants by adopting a similar body or emotional state, a phenomenon known as “emotional contagion,” which may be related to empathy.
Groups of nearby elephants also were more likely to bunch together, or make physical contact with each other.
“With their strong social bonds, it’s not surprising that elephants show concern for others,” said co-author Frans de Waal, an Emory professor of psychology at Emory’s Yerkes National Primate Research Center.
Plotnik and de Waal provided evidence that elephants can recognize themselves in a mirror, a test of self-awareness passed only by some apes, dolphins and magpies.