Feeds

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

Darwin quote on baboons and metaphysics borne out

High performance access to file storage

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. ®

High performance access to file storage

More from The Register

next story
Elon Musk's LEAKY THRUSTER gas stalls Space Station supply run
Helium seeps from Falcon 9 first stage, delays new legs for NASA robonaut
Solar-powered aircraft unveiled for round-the-world flight
It's going to be a slow and sleepy flight for the pilots
Russian deputy PM: 'We are coming to the Moon FOREVER'
Plans to annex Earth's satellite with permanent base by 2030
KILLER SPONGES menacing California coastline
Surfers are safe, crustaceans less so
LOHAN's Punch and Judy show relaunches Thursday
Weather looking good for second pop at test flights
New FEMTO-MOON sighted BIRTHING from Saturn's RING
Icy 'Peggy' looks to be leaving the outer rings
Discovery time for 200m WONDER MATERIALS shaved from 4 MILLENNIA... to 4 years
Alloy, Alloy: Boffins in speed-classification breakthrough
Curiosity finds not-very-Australian-shaped rock on Mars
File under 'messianic pastries' and move on, people
Top Secret US payload launched into space successfully
Clandestine NRO spacecraft sets off on its unknown mission
prev story

Whitepapers

Securing web applications made simple and scalable
In this whitepaper learn how automated security testing can provide a simple and scalable way to protect your web applications.
Five 3D headsets to be won!
We were so impressed by the Durovis Dive headset we’ve asked the company to give some away to Reg readers.
HP ArcSight ESM solution helps Finansbank
Based on their experience using HP ArcSight Enterprise Security Manager for IT security operations, Finansbank moved to HP ArcSight ESM for fraud management.
The benefits of software based PBX
Why you should break free from your proprietary PBX and how to leverage your existing server hardware.
Mobile application security study
Download this report to see the alarming realities regarding the sheer number of applications vulnerable to attack, as well as the most common and easily addressable vulnerability errors.