Feeds

Do you know a chimp who's feeling doleful? Mid-life crisis, probably

Darwin quote on baboons and metaphysics borne out

Choosing a cloud hosting partner with confidence

Boffins investigating the feelings of hundreds of chimpanzees, orangutans and varied great apes say that the creatures get depressed in their middle years just as humans - perhaps especially human males - do. They consider that this affirms Charles Darwin's famous dictum to the effect that if we would seek to understand ourselves we would do well to have a think about baboons first.

"We hoped to understand a famous scientific puzzle: why does human happiness follow an approximate U-shape through life?" explains Professor Andrew Oswald of Warwick uni. "We ended up showing that it cannot be because of mortgages, marital breakup, mobile phones, or any of the other paraphernalia of modern life. Apes also have a pronounced midlife low, and they have none of those."

Oswald and his colleagues found this out by evaluating the cheeriness of some 508 simians living in zoos around the world "whose well-being was assessed by raters familiar with the individual apes". They found that just as with humans, apes start out in life feeling pretty good about things. Then they hit middle age, and start doing the chimp or orangutan equivalent of spaffing the kids' college fund on a sports car or running off with the receptionist.

But chimps who live to a ripe old age, just as with humans, gradually climb out of the pit of despair and start feeling rather cheery again (until shortly before death, that is).

The investigating boffins acknowledge the possibility that it might just be that cheerfulness makes you live longer, so that only naturally cheery apes survive to get old (this would be less the case among people - from wealthy nations at least - as death before old age is quite rare for them). The scientists write:

Higher rates of mortality for the least happy apes, especially in later life, could account for part of the higher wellbeing in the older ape populations.

However they also consider that there are likely to be other explanations, perhaps applying to both humans and apes, which would account for the U-shaped cheeriness curve with age. Probing these, they consider, might not only lead to less dolefulness in the ape house at the zoo: it could also one day eliminate such social scourges as 50-year-old men on powerful motorbikes, practicing on electric guitars, absconding with waitresses etc.

As the boffins note, back in 1838 famed brainbox Charles Darwin - about to commence the research which would prove our common ancestry with the apes - jotted in his notebook:

Origin of man now proved … He who understands baboon would do more towards metaphysics than Locke. [John Locke, the great 17th-century Enlightenment thinker generally said to have had much to do with forming many modern ideas on how people should get on with one another such as the social contract, religious tolerance etc].

The ape investigators write that their proposed simian mid-life crisis mechanisms, perhaps also at work in humans, "offer applications beyond the midlife nadir in happiness and could affirm Darwin’s view".

Their paper can be read in full for free here in pdf, courtesy of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. ®

Secure remote control for conventional and virtual desktops

More from The Register

next story
GRAV WAVE DRAMA: 'Big Bang echo' may have been grit on the scanner – boffins
Exit Planet Dust on faster-than-light expansion of universe
Mine Bitcoins with PENCIL and PAPER
Forget Sudoku, crunch SHA-256 algos
SpaceX Dragon cargo truck flies 3D printer to ISS: Clawdown in 3, 2...
Craft berths at space station with supplies, experiments, toys
'This BITE MARK is a SMOKING GUN': Boffins probe ancient assault
Tooth embedded in thigh bone may tell who pulled the trigger
DOLPHINS SMELL MAGNETS – did we hear that right, boffins?
Xavier's School for Gifted Magnetotaceans
Big dinosaur wowed females with its ENORMOUS HOOTER
That's right, Doris, I've got biggest snout in the prehistoric world
Japanese volcano eruption reportedly leaves 31 people presumed dead
Hopes fade of finding survivors on Mount Ontake
That glass of water you just drank? It was OLDER than the SUN
One MEELLION years older. Some of it anyway
Canberra drone team dances a samba in Outback Challenge
CSIRO's 'missing bushwalker' found and watered
prev story

Whitepapers

Forging a new future with identity relationship management
Learn about ForgeRock's next generation IRM platform and how it is designed to empower CEOS's and enterprises to engage with consumers.
Storage capacity and performance optimization at Mizuno USA
Mizuno USA turn to Tegile storage technology to solve both their SAN and backup issues.
The next step in data security
With recent increased privacy concerns and computers becoming more powerful, the chance of hackers being able to crack smaller-sized RSA keys increases.
Security for virtualized datacentres
Legacy security solutions are inefficient due to the architectural differences between physical and virtual environments.
A strategic approach to identity relationship management
ForgeRock commissioned Forrester to evaluate companies’ IAM practices and requirements when it comes to customer-facing scenarios versus employee-facing ones.