Hanging Out With Friends Makes Chimps Less Stressed

We all need somebody to lean on

Eric Kilby via Flickr

Whether it’s meeting up for an after-work glass of wine or curling up to watch a movie, spending time with friends and loved ones is often one of the best cures for stress. But we’re not the only ones who find comfort in our social ties: Chimps also turn to their friends and mates when they need help relaxing—and it could ease more than their mental state, Eva Botkin-Kowacki reports for The Christian Science Monitor.

Chimps are among the most social critters in the world, with their everyday lives governed by complex webs of friendships and family ties. Though they can be extremely territorial—with interactions between groups dangerous for both sides as they jockey for dominance—they also have a softer side.

"We believe humans are very special because they can have these interesting relationships between each other that last over the years," Roman Wittig, a primatologist at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, tells Botkin-Kowacki. “This is nothing that's typically human. The feeling of good friendship, of strong bonds is something that chimpanzees can feel, too."

During stressful situations, whether it’s patrolling territory or facing off rival groups, stress hormones flood through most chimps' bodies. This can make them more aware of their surroundings and help them make snap decisions about whether to fight or flee, Ben Garrod reports for The Conversation. Wittig and his colleagues found that the stress hormones levels in chimps who spend time with close “bond partners” quickly return to normal after stressful situations. Even more surprising, these relationships appear to mitigate the effects of chronic, everyday stress, too. They recently published their findings in the journal Nature Communications.

“Primates suffer from social stress because they live in large bonded groups,” University of Oxford researcher Robin Dunbar, who was not involved with the study, tells Penny Sarchet for New Scientist. “They cannot easily leave. Friendships are the solution to this problem, because they create protective alliances.”

It’s still unclear the impact of the closeness of friendship on the chimps' hormones—like whether chimps with particularly close friendships experience larger drops in stress hormones than ones with cordial relations. This study, however, suggests that relationships do have similar physiological effects for chimps as they do for humans. Knowing that chimps have an easier time relaxing with their buds after a hard day can help direct future research to measure just how calming these relationships can be.

Get the latest stories in your inbox every weekday.