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Being Monkey in the Middle Is Stressful

A recent study of macaque monkeys finds that those who are of middle status tend to experience the most stress. Christie Nicholson reports

It’s tough to be the monkey in the middle. For example, individual macaques can have high, mid-level or low status in their group. And a study finds that macaques in the middle ranks are the most stressed. 

Female macaques in a monkey habitat in England were observed in various kinds of aggressive behavior, such as chasing or slapping, or affiliative behavior like grooming and hugging. Analysis of the behaviors let researchers determine each individual’s status. The scientists also measured levels of stress hormones found in collected fecal samples.

The mid-status monkeys catch flak from both sides, getting drawn into conflicts from above and below. And mid-level monkeys are most likely to challenge aggressive alphas or be challenged by them. Meanwhile, those last in the pecking order tend to steer clear of the most heated conflicts. The study is in the journal General and Comparative Endocrinology.

The researchers say that these findings might apply to people, where middle managers often want to climb up to top management and must deal with the challenges involved in such ambitions—while at the same time maintaining authority over their team. To test that idea, some ambitious graduate student just needs to collect a few corporate fecal samples.

—Christie Nicholson

[The above text is a transcript of this podcast.]

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