RESEARCH: A tough early life makes adult female baboons less sociable

A recent 2021 study suggests that a tough early life makes adult female baboons less sociable. They failed to give friendly grunts before social interactions between baboons.

Researchers at the New York University in America and Kenya investigated 50 years of research on three groups of wild female Olive Baboons (Papio anubis). The baboon groups were part of the Uaso Ngiro Baboon Project. The research team also recorded more than 2,600 hours of observations of 31 females from the three groups. The researchers noted their activity, social interactions, social partners, and vocalisations.

The researchers rated the levels of early life adversity on a scale of 0-5 for each of the 31 baboons. The factors that were rated included: food availability in the year of their birth; competition in the group at the time of birth; trauma events; loss of parents; their mother’s health, and other factors.

The researchers found that the baboons that rated high on the tough early life scores were less sociable as adults. They had fewer interactions with other baboons in the group, and they grunted less when approaching other baboons. The researchers speculate that their anti-social behaviour made them less attractive in a social environment.

Sam Patterson, one of the researchers, said, ‘getting a better understanding of that early social development and how it … influences later adult outcomes will shed a lot of light on human experience.’ 

Patterson said that if a female approaches another baboon and grunts, she’s saying ‘Hey, I’m going to be friendly and not attack you.’ But if the female doesn’t grunt, it is stressful for the other baboon because it does not know whether she is going to be friendly or not.

However, Patterson said, ‘We need a lot more research on baboons, humans, and other species to really disentangle all these pathways.’

Journal reference: Proceedings of the Royal Society BDOI: 10.1098/rspb.2021.2244

Photographer: Martina Nicolls


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