In all societies, there are principles and also tactics, including those of persuasion, coherence, social reprobation, cooperation, mutual concession, emulation, commitment, moral duty, even sympathy or antipathy, etc., which regulate our daily life and also of animals.

If we want, we can also call them “rules” and their motivations are fundamental for a peaceful life on which, however, we must make some reflections and not exemplify as we often like to do. We must then take into account that all this is often countered by the inconsistency of some of our behavior and also of that of animals which often highlights the fundamental traits of their personality because even animals have their own personality.

They can be temperamentally like us, introverts, extroverts even in their sexual orientations, in the relationships they have with companions, relatives and so on. The only difference is that the figure of the father, generally, in animals, with due exceptions, is secondary, while in man it is fundamental. The figure of the father in our society is institutionalized, in animals this does not exist.

For example, in monkeys, almost all of them, the strongest parental relationships are mother-linear, as are internal hierarchies. It is the mothers who educate their infants to behave properly in the society in which they live, while the adult males, assuming that they are the biological fathers of these offspring, assume only secondary roles of a protective type, but very limited over time.

Motivational drives

But what is it that drives monkeys, but also man, to behave socially in a certain way rather than another? They are motivational drives. They are internal drives to act, to make decisions, in short, to do something rather than remain passive and indifferent. All actions are closely linked to an emotional state that we all experience at a specific moment in life. In essence, motivations can be considered special emotions or amplification of an initial emotional state.

In psychology, it is called emotional potential. All motivations are therefore natural, never artificial. They are inspired by internal drives of an innate nature or as the scientists say hereditarily coordinate. They are never learned, even if they can sometimes be conditioned by instrumentalization and coercion or imposition by someone or a system. To give an example of hereditary coordination, let's takes the courtship.

In animals, but also in humans, courtship is manifested by strong motivational rituals that push an individual to behave in a certain way that is as suitable as possible for the circumstances, otherwise the final success will not be achieved. Appropriate stimuli must be launched, one must wait for the first reaction of the partner and then move on to launch other signals, in a succession of stimuli and responses linked together.

All of this, from a point of view of external behavior, that is, for what is seen, but the drives also work internally. They push organisms to restore order, a balance when it begins to fail (it is called a homeostatic principle, just like a thermostat), as when you are hungry and you are driven to go in search of food or water when you are thirsty.

But there are other internal drives that are much more sophisticated and this concerns more than anything else the human motivational system, for example when we are driven to look for things very different from food and water, for example when we want to embark on a university career rather than that of a car mechanic or financial advisor or politician or other of these kinds, even if at the base of these drives there is always the mirage of making a lot of money and living in well-being.

To be successful, however, you must always be very motivated and never let yourself go in the face of the first difficulties. The same goes for an athlete. The internal drives of an athlete can increase the level of physiological activation that is detected by increased muscle and even psychological tension. But he/she must never exaggerate because in the competition this could be counterproductive. Motivational activation should be neither too high, nor too low, but balanced.

Human and animal comparison

In all this, do humans in their behavioral choices resemble animals? The motivational levels are always the same, although it is true that in animals there are no or few situations in which their behavior is conditioned by particular or learning situations.

Take, for example, the concept of persuasion. Who is no more persuasive than a chimpanzee who wishes to impose his role in society from a position of dominance and privilege? It is difficult for any submissive individual to oppose these desires. Then we have social reprobation. When an individual selfishly thinks that he does not want to share food with other members of his group, sooner or later he will pay the consequences.

Being altruistic and cooperative almost always brings an advantage, even if not immediate. Not being so could lead to marginalization from the group or even ostracism. It is always better to give something to someone than to keep everything to yourself. Reciprocal concession always brings advantages. Then we have emulation. An infant chimpanzee that emulates an adult who has built poles to extract termites from the nest immediately gets an advantage constituted by the fact that in this way it feeds better and faster and this strategy can then spread in its society.

In essence, he learns and spreads an extremely useful eating behavior first for him, then for his own children who will come. In the end, we have a moral duty. Moral duty is inherent in the minds of many animals and especially of monkeys as it constitutes one of the fundamental pillars of peaceful coexistence. Without any form of morality in a society as complex as that of monkeys, groups could not survive in the face of dangers and food competition with other animal species.

If there is a difference between us humans and the apes, it refers, perhaps, to sympathy or antipathy. But even in this case, it is only a question of the meaning that we men give to these words. In the "dictionary", if we can express ourselves in these terms, the fact that someone may or may not ally, for example, with someone, in a fight against enemies or other animals, implies a sort of complicity linked to these feelings.

Sometimes it could be a sort of automatic persuasion, a rule of reciprocation, an exchange of favors, certainly a certain affinity of character, therefore of mutual sympathy which could very well help, more or less deferentially or if we want conditionally, to do something for someone who is more sympathetic to us than an unpleasant one. On the other hand, don't we men often behave in this way?

Suggested reading

Robert Cialdini. 1984. Influence. The psychology of persuasion. New York, Quill William Morrow and Company Inc.
Frans de Waal. 2006. Primates and philosophers: How morality evolved. Princeton, Princeton University Press.
Frans de Waal. 2009. The age of empathy. New York, The Crown Publishing Group.
Angelo Tartabini. 2020. Consciousness in animals. Milan, Mimesis Edizioni.
Angelo Tartabini. 2020. Moral judgment. Wall Street International Magazine, May 3rd.