It’s well-known that social interactions improve health and longevity in humans. Now a new study has confirmed that the same is true for baboons as well. Scientists at the University of Notre Dame and Duke University conducted a long-term study on 204 female baboons living near Mount Kilimanjaro in Kenya. They found that the opposite-sex and same-sex friendships in the animal can increase their life span by up to three years compared to their socially isolated peers.
Opposite-sex friendships more beneficial for baboons
Findings of the study appeared in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society. The social interactions in baboons were measured by how often they engaged in grooming. It’s an activity that involves picking parasites, dead skin and dirt out of each other’s fur. Susan Alberts, co-author of the study, said grooming for baboons is like have a nice conversation over a cup of coffee or gossip.
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What’s more, researchers found that socializing with males is more beneficial to the longevity of females than interacting with other females. Many other studies in baboons, dolphins and rats have showed that same-sex friendships improve their health. But it’s the first study suggesting that opposite-sex friendships also have the same effects.
Researchers monitored how often female baboons engaged in social interactions (grooming) compared to the rest of the group. The friendliest female baboons lived 2-3 years longer than their socially isolated peers, even after accounting for factors like a female’s group size, rank and the number of female relatives.
Why some baboons are less sociable?
In what ways could social interactions lengthen the life of baboons? Elizabeth Archie, lead author of the study, said friendships boost immune function, reduce chronic stress, and improve the female baboon’s access to food and water. If social interactions are so beneficial, why are some baboons less sociable? Biologist Lauren Brent said relationships are a valuable commodity, so competition is intense for them, which may result into exclusion for some animals.
However, it’s still unclear whether the most friendly females live longer because they have some close friends or a lot of acquaintances.