Research led by a Swansea University academic has revealed that female macaque monkeys that spend a large amount of time interacting and being social with other macaques are less stressed.
Dr Ines Fürtbauer, a DFG Research Fellow in the Department of Biosciences, Swansea University, and colleagues in Göttingen, Germany found that Assamese macaques in Thailand who spend lots of time being social with both males and females have lower stress hormones. The study is published in Psychoneuroendocrinology.
The positive effects of having strong social bonds are well known for human and non-human animals. People with greater networks of friends, for instance, often live longer. Sociable baboons not only live longer, but their offspring are more likely to survive too.
Dr Fürtbauer conducted the research at the Phu Khieo Wildlife Sanctuary in Thailand as part of her postdoctoral research with The Courant Research Centre Evolution of Social Behaviour in Göttingen. Dr Fürtbauer observed the female macaques’ social relationships and at the same time collected faecal samples, from which she was later able to measure stress hormone levels.
“Most studies that investigate the effect of sociality on physiological stress levels have mainly focussed on female-female relationships. The exciting thing we found was that the social interactions female macaques had with females and males positively affected stress hormone levels”
“During the mating season, when hanging out with males is crucial, females have higher stress hormone levels when interacting less with males. During the non-mating season when interactions with males are less important, frequent interaction with other females results in lower stress hormone levels.” says Dr Fürtbauer.
Dr Fürtbauer thinks that the reduction in stress hormone levels females experience when they are more sociable might act as a positive feedback, reinforcing these social relationships which potentially bring reproductive or health benefits.
Interestingly, in humans, it has recently been shown that the gender-bias in women’s preferred relationships varies across the lifespan. When women are young, they prefer to spend time with other women, then switch from same-sex to opposite-sex relationships during the reproductively active period of their lives, and back to same-sex relationships at the age of about 50 years.
“Low female stress hormone levels are predicted by same- or opposite-sex sociality depending on season in wild Assamese macaques” Fürtbauer et al. (in press) http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0306453014002066
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Tuesday 10 June 2014 11.11 GMT
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