As any high school quarterback knows, a lofty social status comes with plenty of perks. Now a study of baboons finds that such status benefits may include better health. The study is in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. [Elizabeth A. Archie, Jeanne Altmann and Susan C. Alberts, "Social status predicts wound healing in wild baboons"]
Researchers reviewed 27 years’ worth of records of illness and injury in male baboons to answer one question: Where’s the healthier place on the social pyramid, top or bottom? Each rank carries its own health hazards. Higher-status baboons mate more often, which expends more energy and requires higher levels of testosterone and hormones that can suppress the immune system. Lower-ranking males, on the other hand, are physically weaker and suffer from social stress.
The records indicated that high-status males got sick less frequently and healed faster from both injury and illness. And alpha males, who had to overcome the highest levels of immunosuppressing hormones, still healed fastest, exceeding even other high-status males.
The finding does raise another question: does top-dog status improve immune function, or is it that fast healers rise to the top of the social heap?
[The above text is an exact transcript of this podcast.]