Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Humans Not The Only Primates To Have Mid-Life Crisis, Scientific Study Says

Animal Behavior

The Orangutan, a species of great ape, might also go through a mid-life crisis.
Photo Credit: Zyance, 2004; at the Schloß Schönbrunn Zoo, Vienna, Austria.
Source: Wikipedia 

An article in the Smithsonian blog says that humans are not the only species to suffer a mid-life crisis; it seems to be common in chimpanzees and orangutans:
A team led by psychologist Alexander Weiss of the University of Edinburgh asked zookeepers and researchers around the world to keep track of the well-being of resident chimpanzees and orangutans—508 animals in total. The results of all that record-keeping, published today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, show that, like humans, these great apes generally experience a U-shaped pattern of happiness and well-being, starting off with high ratings for happiness as adolescents, declining gradually during middle age (bottoming out in their late 20s or early 30s), and then rising back up again in their elder years.
Although popular conceptions of human mid-life crises focus on material acquisitions, psychologists believe they’re driven by an underlying decline in satisfaction and happiness as we go through middle age, and reflected by increased antidepressant use and suicide risk. In this sense, the primates studied went through a similar pattern. The chimps and orangutans studied went through a human-like U-shaped pattern for happiness over the course of their lives. Image via PNAS/Weiss et. al.
Of course, unlike with humans, no one can directly ask chimps and orangutans how they are feeling. Instead, the researchers relied upon surveys, filled out by zookeepers and caretakers, that rated the animals’ mood and how much pleasure they took from certain situations. They acknowledge the ratings are necessarily subjective, but they feel that the size of the dataset and consistency in the trends as reported from the different zoos with different animals suggests that the pattern is legitimate.
Weiss’ group originally embarked on the ape study to answer the question of why mid-life dissatisfaction is so common in humans. “We hoped to understand a famous scientific puzzle: why does human happiness follow an approximate U-shape through life?” Weiss said in a statement.
Of course, one study, no matter how meticulous the reportage is, does not prove anything. But like many initial scientific findings, it does raise interesting questions that might lead to conclusive results, or at least a questioning of current research related to human happiness. Such is one of the strengths of science, its ability to auto-correct.

In this case, the argument of material acquisitions or career satisfaction does not apply to the chimpanzees and orangutans, since their interests likely lie in other pursuits; it might just be that unhappiness is part of both the human and animal condition, notably for primates as far as we can tell, and the U-shaped pattern for happiness is a normal part of human development. If this turns out to be valid and true, then humans can be better prepared for the bottom part of the "U."

You can read the rest of the article at [Smithsonian]