Apes, Humans Share A Happiness Dip Mid-Life

Host Scott Simon talks with University of Edinburgh professor Alex Weiss about his new study on ape well-being. He found that apes, like humans, experience a U-shaped pattern of life satisfaction that dips in middle-age, commonly known as a mid-life crisis.

Copyright © 2012 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Men sometimes have a midlife crisis and start wearing sporty new clothes, in which they can look ridiculous, buy a sports car, or have a fling, in which they look ridiculous. What about those guys who just want an extra bunch of bananas? An international team of researchers have discovered that apes can also get a little depressed about reaching the autumn of their years. Dr. Alex Weiss is a senior lecturer at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland. He co-led the study, which appears in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. He joins us from the BBC in Edinburgh.

Thanks for being with us.

ALEX WEISS: Thank you for having me.

SIMON: Forgive me for not knowing, but do apes have a sense of their own mortality?

WEISS: I don't think any of us really know that. What may be going on here or in the human case is that these sorts of thoughts that are typically described as being part of the midlife crisis, you know, being aware of your mortality and so on and so forth, it's maybe not depression. This is just part of human development, as it is part of the chimpanzee and orangutan psychological development.

SIMON: So do apes also suffer from male pattern baldness when they hit their 30s?

WEISS: I don't know. There is, I think, some hair thinning and graying that can go on. But I don't think it's quite what we see in humans. Or...

SIMON: Yeah. So do you buy them a paisley tie to cheer them up?

(LAUGHTER)

WEISS: No, nothing like that. I don't think they'd appreciate the beauty that comes with a paisley tie.

SIMON: Is there something that we can learn for our species from this, do you think?

WEISS: Well, yeah, I think so. So for a long time, the research on the midlife crisis, or the views on the midlife crisis, have primarily looked at it in terms of social forces. So there's psychological and socio-psychological explanations that were offered, things about money and so on and so forth.

And while I wouldn't say that, you know, one can completely rule that out, what this shows is that there's actually something deeper and more biological going on here, something that probably exists in our common ancestors that we shared with these species. And that this midlife crisis, you know, there's nothing wrong with you.

You know, the question is what do you do with that? And one thing we thought is maybe this is evolution's way of saying when you get to this point in life, you know, you're pretty well off in your resources. You know, you're probably about as high as you'll go in your work. Maybe now is the time to sort of strike out, do something bold and different.

And, you know, this explains the timing, because if you were satisfied at midlife you may not take these risks that may be very rewarding. So I think one can take kind of a positive message home.

SIMON: Dr. Alex Weiss, a senior lecturer at University of Edinburgh. Thanks very much for being with us.

WEISS: Thanks a lot.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SIMON: This is NPR News.

Copyright © 2012 NPR. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to NPR. This transcript is provided for personal, noncommercial use only, pursuant to our Terms of Use. Any other use requires NPR's prior permission. Visit our permissions page for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.

Support comes from: