Study finds great apes can experience a 'midlife crisis' similar to humans

Nov 19, 2012
Pongo pygmaeus (orangutang). Credit: Malene Thyssen, via Wikipedia

Chimpanzees and orangutans can experience a midlife crisis just like humans, a study suggests.

This is the finding from a new study, published in the of the USA, that set out to test the theory that the pattern of well-being over a lifespan might have evolved in the common ancestors of humans and great apes.

An international team of researchers, including economist Professor Andrew Oswald from the University of Warwick and psychologist Dr Alex Weiss from the University of Edinburgh, discovered that, as in humans, chimpanzee and orangutan well-being (or happiness) follows a U shape and is high in youth, falls in middle age, and rises again into old age.

The authors studied 508 great apes housed in zoos and sanctuaries in the United States, Japan, Canada, Australia and Singapore. The apes' well-being was assessed by keepers, volunteers, researchers and caretakers who knew the apes well. Their happiness was scored with a series of measures adapted from human subjective well-being measures.

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

The study is the first of its kind and the authors knew their work was likely to be unconventional. Dr Weiss said: "Based on all of the other behavioural and developmental similarities between humans, , and orang-utans, we predicted that there would be similarities when looking at happiness over the lifespan, too. However, one never knows how these things will turn out, so it's wonderful when they are consistent with findings from so many other areas."

The team included and psychologists from Japan and the United States. In the paper the team point out that their findings do not rule out the possibility that economic events or social and cultural forces contribute part of the reason for the well-being U shape in humans. However, they highlight the need to consider evolutionary or biological explanations. For example, individuals being satisfied at stages of their life where they have fewer resources to improve their lot may be less likely to encounter situations that could be harmful to them or their families.

Explore further: Study suggests mysterious bio-duck sounds in southern ocean come from minke whales

More information: Evidence for a 'midlife crisis' in Great Apes consistent with the U-shape in human wellbeing, Alexander Weiss, James E King, Miho Inoue-Murayama, Tetsuro Matsuzawa, Andrew J Oswald. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 2012.

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User comments : 20

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Telekinetic
2.1 / 5 (7) Nov 19, 2012
Just buy 'em a red convertible. They'll look just like any other bald-headed, self-made middle-ager tooling down the road.
packrat
1.7 / 5 (6) Nov 19, 2012
Do female apes go though menopause about that time like human women do? Just give the male apes some younger females to hang out with... The convertible wouldn't hurt either!
elektron
1.3 / 5 (13) Nov 19, 2012
This is unqualified garbage and not science at all. Sorrow, is a uniquely human prerogative, caused by a self conclusion born of self awareness. Animals are not aware of their awareness and therefore are only subject to normal animal problems. Humans also have the same animal problems, but 'sorrow' is an extra problem for humans and is in fact the fundamental human problem.

Ask yourself this; Can you be sad without memory?
Telekinetic
3.4 / 5 (11) Nov 19, 2012
@elektron;
The unqualified garbage is in your ignorance of animal behavior. There are countless, documented instances of animals grieving over lifeless bodies of their offspring, or the whimpering of dogs when their masters die. What hole is your head buried in?
elektron
1 / 5 (8) Nov 19, 2012
Telekinetic, your post shows your inability to comprehend what I wrote, as you fire off your ill considered reply without bothering to even understand the very words that you write. Regarding your rating my comment with a 1. Let me quote from Pablo Picasso, 'If the wise man disapproves; Bad. If the simpleton applaudes; Worse.

Animals grieving, is not at all like human sorrow. It is merely instinctual behaviour and does not become maudlin neither does it evoke in the animal memories of good times and consequent commissions and omissions that he should have done or not done.

But more than that you seem to have entirely missed the point of the article which is that this particular 'sorrow' is linked to particular times in a persons life, irrespective of the event. An animal does not think at some point in its life that it has not really achieved very much and then makes itself sad with conclusions that it really has wasted its time.
elektron
1 / 5 (9) Nov 19, 2012
To highlight the ludicrous position you have adopted, and to show you what I said in my first post, it is obvious that the 'grieving' of an animal after the death of its mate, is entirely instinctive, there is not deliberate choice in the matter.

There will never ever be a situation where a dog, after its mate dies, is now really pleased because if truth be told that bitch was driving him up the wall anyway and now he can roam free and check out the local poodle talent.
Telekinetic
2.7 / 5 (7) Nov 19, 2012
elektron:
You're a nincompoop and I'll explain why. If you quote Picasso saying the wise man disagrees- that would make me the wise man.
The article is making a connection to a pattern of emotional changes with our primate ancestors. They also are discovering behavior patterns that, from an evolutionary standpoint, were for self- preservation, all the while attributing states of happiness or sadness to our primate forebears.
Telekinetic
1.8 / 5 (10) Nov 19, 2012
elektron:
It appears you lose more I.Q. points each time you post. I said the dogs mourn their masters, but in your case, your dog would rejoice.
elektron
1 / 5 (7) Nov 20, 2012
"Study finds great apes can experience a 'midlife crisis' similar to humans"

The headline is unambiguous.
theskepticalpsychic
4.2 / 5 (5) Nov 20, 2012
All I can say is, the orang in the photo looks drunk as a skunk--another evidence of midlife crisis.
Caliban
4.3 / 5 (4) Nov 20, 2012
What this research reveals --if there was still any question-- is that the so-called midlife crisis is physiologically based. The typical outward behaviors and unhappiness arise from the unwillingness to acknowledge the physical(and frequently, mental) decline that accelerates in mid life.

The late life happiness which is mentioned arrives once an individual learns to accomodate the inevitable.

elektron
1 / 5 (9) Nov 20, 2012
@Caliban, you are confusing physical pain (including hormonal) with sorrow (heartache if you will). You see what makes us fully human is the faculty of choice. A dog is free to bark if it feels like it. However a dog is not so free that if it feels like barking it can choose not to. A cow has no choice in being vegetarian.

It is the choices that one makes in life that are really the problem. Women often complain when they have been chastised over a particular behaviour whether legitimately caused by physiological processes or not, that "I can't help how I feel, I can't control my emotions".

And of course this is true, but one need not control ones emotions. That's where choice comes in, one may feel angry but that is not justification to shoot someone, even in a so called 'crime of passion'. Even the law recognises a 'crime of passion' (an oddball misogynistic defence) but in actual fact it's just the actions of a weak minded individual. What we can control is our actions.
EBENEZR
3 / 5 (6) Nov 20, 2012
A cow has no choice in being vegetarian.


This is impossible by definition. Vegetarianism is a choice - abstention from meat. If cows have no choice, then it's not vegetarianism. I'm going to guess you mean they have no choice but to be herbivorous... Except for when they're fed animal remains, in which case the opposite is true. Basically, they'll eat what they're given when they're hungry, not necessarily an obligation to be herbivorous.

... a 'crime of passion' (an oddball misogynistic defence)


A man rapes (maybe even kills) your wife so you kill him: this constitutes a crime of passion, how is avenging the defilement (and possible murder) of your wife the act of a misogynist? Or are you saying crimes of passion are only ever the man inflicting anger on a woman? Because that just isn't true.
Caliban
5 / 5 (3) Nov 20, 2012
@Caliban, you are confusing physical pain (including hormonal) with sorrow (heartache if you will).


No, not really. Apparently, I didn't make myself clear enough.

The awarehess of declining abilities arises after those abilities begin to decline. Do you really think that an ape or chimp or bonobo isn't aware that it is losing the ability to do things that it formerly could? Or that it is losing stamina? Or the favors of females --as just a few examples? The same awareness arises in humans as they age, and, in denial, some overcompensate --to try to show the world that they've still got "the magic" of youth. This is the behavioral pattern known as the "Mid Life Crisis".

I can't speak for dogs, and cows and dolphins, but the behavior(though different from that of humans --at least partly) is pretty well documented in the apes and primates. And this is what reveals its source as physical decline --and not just some illusory epiphenomena in the spectrum of human behavior.

Caliban
5 / 5 (4) Nov 20, 2012
Women often complain when they have been chastised over a particular behaviour whether legitimately caused by physiological processes or not, that "I can't help how I feel, I can't control my emotions".
[...]not justification to shoot someone, even in a so called 'crime of passion'. Even the law recognises a 'crime of passion' (an oddball misogynistic defence) but in actual fact it's just the actions of a weak minded individual. What we can control is our actions.


And,

I'm not entirely sure where you were going with the first part of that, but I do take take issue with your take on the "crime of passion". I've never understood it to be a misogynistic term.
I haven't bothered to look it up, but I don't think that its principle definition is gender-specific, either.

It means that someone snapped, and did something criminal while under extreme duress.

And it does happen, now and again.

I hope that it never happens to you.

Sinister1811
2.7 / 5 (7) Nov 20, 2012
you are confusing physical pain (including hormonal) with sorrow (heartache if you will). You see what makes us fully human is the faculty of choice. A dog is free to bark if it feels like it. However a dog is not so free that if it feels like barking it can choose not to. A cow has no choice in being vegetarian.


LOL That's laughable. A dog won't bark if it chooses not to. A dog won't even eat if it chooses not to. You proclaim (and ignorantly, I might add) that animals do not make decisions. But, do they not choose mates? Do animals not choose to flee predators? Do predators not choose which animals to feast on? Or do certain herbivores have no preference over which leaves are the tastiest? Some are opportunistic, but some happen to be very selective, which is a demonstration of CHOICE. It is not fundamentally human.
Sinister1811
3.2 / 5 (9) Nov 20, 2012
The unqualified garbage is in your ignorance of animal behavior. There are countless, documented instances of animals grieving over lifeless bodies of their offspring


Exactly. And elephants are one such well-known example of this. Dogs grieve over the death of their owners, and even rats have shown to grieve over dead loved ones.
EBENEZR
3.3 / 5 (7) Nov 21, 2012
The unqualified garbage is in your ignorance of animal behavior. There are countless, documented instances of animals grieving over lifeless bodies of their offspring


Exactly. And elephants are one such well-known example of this. Dogs grieve over the death of their owners, and even rats have shown to grieve over dead loved ones.


Consider the shingleback, a variety of blue-tongued skink. When they pair up (up to twenty years or more, which is more faithful than a lot of human relationships), if one is killed, such as being hit by a car, they stay at the dead partner's side for days on end. Whether this is a genuine display of grief or these creatures are just thick, I don't know.
Sigh
5 / 5 (3) Nov 23, 2012
This is unqualified garbage and not science at all.

How sure are you that you can judge this?

Sorrow, is a uniquely human prerogative, caused by a self conclusion born of self awareness. Animals are not aware of their awareness and therefore are only subject to normal animal problems.

How do you know? Several researchers in the field do share your opinion, but my reading hasn't yet shown me conclusive evidence one way or the other.

Can you be sad without memory?

What kind of memory? Bees have memory. Do you mean specifically episodic or even autobiographical memory? One theory of the function of emotions says that sadness is the emotion that makes you give up an unattainable goal, but it is not clear to me why that would need more than semantic memory. And even the researchers who claim episodic memory is uniquely human grant other species semantic memory.
Sigh
4 / 5 (2) Nov 23, 2012
Do female apes go though menopause about that time like human women do?

No. Sarah Blaffer Hrdy discusses this at length in her book "Mothers and Others". The only other species I know of that has a menopause is orcas. More detail in the 7th September Science podcast. Go to http://www.scienc...podcast/ and scroll down.

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