November 19, 2012, 3:21 PM — Hopefully for the dignity of their respective species, chimpanzees and orangutans don't embarrass themselves in middle age as so many humans do.
But even if they don't resort to comb-overs and chin lifts, it turns out that, like humans, chimpanzees and orangutans can suffer from mid-life crises.
A new study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the USA by an international team of researchers indicated that chimpanzees and orangutans -- who along with humans and gorillas comprise the Great Apes -- follow the same U-shaped pattern of lifetime well-being that features a trough (depression) in middle age sandwiched by high levels of happiness in youth and old age.
The research was led by Professor Andrew Oswald from the University of Warwick (England) and psychologist Dr Alex Weiss from the University of Edinburgh (Scotland), who were interested in determining whether the U-pattern of emotional well-being was common among the Great Apes.
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. Apes also have a pronounced midlife low, and they have none of those."
True, we humans are materialistic and shallow, but at least we don't have to pick bugs off each other! OK, that was a cheap shot. I apologize to the other Great Apes who are reading this.
Seriously, the research raises fascinating questions about whether Great Apes have a higher consciousness, think about the future, are aware of mortality or harbor personal regrets.