When chimps have a midlife crisis

Illustration for article titled When chimps have a midlife crisis

While they're perhaps less likely to take up paragliding or get an ill-advised tattoo, it appears that other primates suffer from midlife crises just like Homo sapiens. A new study of chimps and orangutans found that they have a major dip in well-being during their middle years.


By surveying humans familiar with populations of apes around the world, they found that individual simians were generally doing less well during the middle of their life span. The surveys asked questions about the individual ape's mood, pleasure in social situations, ability to achieve goals, and how happy the humans were around them.

Illustration for article titled When chimps have a midlife crisis

While it may seem a bit bizarre to study how other animals have a mid-life crisis, it does point to a very interesting fact: the basis for these problems is biological rather than social. It's not because you're bored and trapped in your job, or because you've put on weight, or you've finally reached the unalterable conclusion that you'll never be world famous. It appears that the mid-life crisis is something that many of our great ape relatives go through, too — which means that we may have to look at new ways of treating it.

Photo by Sergey Timofeev via Shutterstock


I forgot where I heard this, but some group also did a study of apes where they took pictures of the "elite" apes, handed them out to the "lesser" apes to see how they reacted. They would stare at the pictures and wouldn't eat. Basically it was a study to show that humans and apes are both celebrity obsessed. The elite apes were the higher ups in the group and the other ones just wanted to look at them and obsess over them.

If you look at both of these studies together, you can make the conclusion that maybe the mid life crisis isn't biological in us or the apes. Social standing is important to everyone (as a whole, not individually) maybe those apes know they aren't going to ever be the top dog and things like that. So they act out just as their human counterparts do. Just a thought.