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Other Great Apes May Have Midlife Crises

Zookeeper ratings of the moods of 500 chimps and orangutans revealed that our closest relatives also show a U-shaped curve of life satisfaction. Karen Hopkin reports

Feeling listless? Unfulfilled? Like your life’s half over and what have you got to show for it? Well, you’re not alone. In fact, you might not even be human. Because a new study shows that even apes can experience a mid-life crisis. The work appears in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. [Alexander Weiss et al., Evidence for a midlife crisis in great apes consistent with the U-shape in human well-being]

Social scientists, economists, and philosophers have long been aware that some people are subject to a sort of half-time slump: a period when their well-being dips to an all-time low. What’s less clear is what causes this midlife ennui, which by many measures falls between a joyous childhood and contented retirement? Is it socioeconomic? Psychological? Metaphysical?

In this study, researchers first checked to see if the slump is uniquely human. They asked zookeepers to rate the relative happiness of some 500 chimps and orangutans, based on how often the apes seem to be in a good mood or how much pleasure they derive from socializing. Turns out our closest relatives also show a U-shaped curve of life satisfaction—cheery in youth and old age, and mopey in the middle.

So when you start lusting after that red convertible, you’re not totally bananas. You’re just going ape.

—Karen Hopkin

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

 

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