Monkey study reveals why middle managers suffer the most stress

April 2, 2013
Barbary macaques. Credit: Wikipedia/Flickr/Karyn Sig

(Phys.org) —A study by the universities of Manchester and Liverpool observing monkeys has found that those in the middle hierarchy suffer the most social stress. Their work suggests that the source of this stress is social conflict and may help explain studies in humans that have found that middle managers suffer the most stress at work.

Katie Edwards from Liverpool's Institute of spent nearly 600 hours watching female Barbary macaques at Trentham Monkey Forest in Staffordshire. Her research involved monitoring a single female over one day, recording all incidences of . These included agonistic behaviour like threats, chases and slaps, submissive behaviour like displacing, screaming, grimacing and hind-quarter presentation and affiliative behaviour such as teeth chatter, embracing and grooming.

The following day faecal samples from the same female were collected and analysed for hormones at Chester Zoo's wildlife endocrinology laboratory.

Katie explains what she found: "Not unsurprisingly we recorded the highest level of stress hormones on the days following agonistic behaviour. However, we didn't find a link between lower and affiliative behaviour such as grooming."

She continues: "Unlike previous studies that follow a group over a period of time and look at average behaviours and hormone levels, this study allowed us to link the observed behaviour of specific monkeys with their individual hormone samples from the period when they were displaying that behaviour."

Another key aspect of the research was noting where the observed monkey ranked in the of the group. The researchers found that monkeys from the middle order had the highest recorded levels of hormones.

Dr Susanne Shultz, a Royal Society University Research Fellow in the Faculty of Life Sciences at The University of Manchester oversaw the study: "What we found was that monkeys in the middle of the hierarchy are involved with conflict from those below them as well as from above, whereas those in the bottom of the hierarchy distance themselves from conflict. The middle ranking macaques are more likely to challenge, and be challenged by, those higher on the social ladder."

Katie says the results could also be applied to human behaviour: "It's possible to apply these findings to other social species too, including human hierarchies. People working in middle management might have higher levels of compared to their boss at the top or the workers they manage. These ambitious mid-ranking people may want to access the higher-ranking lifestyle which could mean facing more challenges, whilst also having to maintain their authority over lower-ranking workers."

The research findings have been published in the journal General and Comparative Endocrinology.

Talking about the research, Susan Wiper the Director of Trentham Monkey Forest, said: "Katie has conducted a thorough study with very interesting results based on the natural groupings and environment that the Barbary macaques live in here. We are always pleased when more data is found on this fascinating endangered species of non-human primate."

Katie is currently based at Chester Zoo where she is studying hormone levels in relation to behaviour in a bid to encourage Black Rhinos to reproduce more frequently.

Explore further: Stressed-out African naked mole-rats may provide clues about human infertility

More information: The paper "Associations between social behaviour and adrenal activity in female Barbary macaques: consequences of study design" has been published online in the journal General and Comparative Endocrinology.

Related Stories

'Nervous' birds take more risks

October 26, 2007

Scientists have shown that birds with higher stress levels adopt bolder behaviour than their normally more relaxed peers in stressful situations. A University of Exeter research team studied zebra finches, which had been ...

Hormone that affects finger length key to social behavior

November 4, 2009

The hormones, called androgens, are important in the development of masculine characteristics such as aggression and strength. It is also thought that prenatal androgens affect finger length during development in the womb. ...

Stress may lead to better bird parenting

June 14, 2011

Birds with high levels of stress hormones have the highest mating success and offer better parental care to their brood, according to new biology research at Queen's University.

Recommended for you

A novel toxin for M. tuberculosis

August 4, 2015

Despite 132 years of study, no toxin had ever been found for the deadly pathogen Mycobacterium tuberculosis, which infects 9 million people a year and kills more than 1 million.

New biosensors for managing microbial 'workers'

August 4, 2015

Super productive factories of the future could employ fleets of genetically engineered bacterial cells, such as common E. coli, to produce valuable chemical commodities in an environmentally friendly way. By leveraging their ...

Fish that have their own fish finders

August 4, 2015

The more than 200 species in the family Mormyridae communicate with one another in a way completely alien to our species: by means of electric discharges generated by an organ in their tails.

Volcanic bacteria take minimalist approach to survival

August 4, 2015

New research by scientists at the University of Otago and GNS Science is helping to solve the puzzle of how bacteria are able to live in nutrient-starved environments. It is well-established that the majority of bacteria ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.