Chimpanzees can suffer from a mid-life crisis

By Charlotte Summers

According to research that was carried out by an international team of psychologists and primatologists, chimpanzees and orangutans may suffer from a mid-life crisis in the same way humans do.

For the study, 508 chimpanzees and orangutans of varying ages, from zoos, sanctuaries and research centres were assessed by their own keepers who had worked with them for a minimum of two years prior to the study.

The primates’ caretakers completed a survey that assessed the wellbeing of the animals. The questionnaire was based on a human wellbeing model that had been modified to assess the contentment and life satisfaction as well as distress levels of non-human subjects.

Humans have previously been shown to have a high level of wellbeing in youth, which then drops dramatically in middle age before increasing again in old age. This is known as a ‘U’ shaped curve of happiness. This is the first research study to investigate if this is only affected by socioeconomic status, education and other human specific conditions.

The researchers found that our closest biological relatives also experience this decline in wellbeing in their middle ages. In humans the mid-life crisis is associated with actions such spontaneously going out and buying a sports car and the like. Chimpanzees and orangutans similarly were reported by their keepers to desire more such as increased mating with females and being given access to more resources.

This research is interesting and indicates that the mid-life crisis may be in our DNA rather than our socially manipulated desires.

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