The research team, made up of psychologists and primatologists, realized that the older chimpanzees preferred to spend more time with peers who have developed mutual friendships over the years. Like older humans in search of peace and quiet, chimpanzees have also shown a shift from negative to more positive interactions as they get older.
“What is really cool is that we found that chimpanzees are showing these patterns that reflect those of humans,” said Alexandra Rosati, assistant professor of psychology and anthropology at the University of Michigan and one of the article’s main authors.
The researchers analyzed the social interactions of 21 male chimpanzees, aged between 15 and 58, between the years 1995 and 2016. The study shows what can be the first evidence of non-human animals actively selecting whom they relate to during aging.
15-year-old chimpanzees had, on average, 2.1 one-sided friendships and 0.9 mutual friends, while 40-year-old chimpanzees hardly cared about one-sided friendships (average 0.6), but they had many mutual friends – an average of 3.
“These older chimpanzees have these mutual friendships, they really invest in these relationships,” said Zarin Machanda, a professor at Tufts University and the lead author of the article.
Alexandra Rosati added that future research can help determine whether these behaviors are the normal or successful course that aging should take.
“There is an urgent need to understand the biology of aging. More humans are living longer than in the past, which can change the dynamics of aging,” added Rosati.
The researchers were not entirely surprised by their findings. Part of that is because chimpanzees and humans are already very similar in terms of social organization and social choices.
“This raises the possibility that we are seeing behavioral systems that were evolutionarily shared back to our common ancestor, about seven or eight million years ago,” said the primatologist and study author Richard Wrangham.
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