Published: November 24, 2012
SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
Men sometimes have a midlife crisis and start wearing sporty new clothes, in which they can look ridiculous, buy a sports car, or have a fling, in which they look ridiculous. What about those guys who just want an extra bunch of bananas? An international team of researchers have discovered that apes can also get a little depressed about reaching the autumn of their years. Dr. Alex Weiss is a senior lecturer at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland. He co-led the study, which appears in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. He joins us from the BBC in Edinburgh.
Thanks for being with us.
ALEX WEISS: Thank you for having me.
SIMON: Forgive me for not knowing, but do apes have a sense of their own mortality?
WEISS: I don't think any of us really know that. What may be going on here or in the human case is that these sorts of thoughts that are typically described as being part of the midlife crisis, you know, being aware of your mortality and so on and so forth, it's maybe not depression. This is just part of human development, as it is part of the chimpanzee and orangutan psychological development.
SIMON: So do apes also suffer from male pattern baldness when they hit their 30s?
WEISS: I don't know. There is, I think, some hair thinning and graying that can go on. But I don't think it's quite what we see in humans. Or...
SIMON: Yeah. So do you buy them a paisley tie to cheer them up?
WEISS: No, nothing like that. I don't think they'd appreciate the beauty that comes with a paisley tie.
SIMON: Is there something that we can learn for our species from this, do you think?
WEISS: Well, yeah, I think so. So for a long time, the research on the midlife crisis, or the views on the midlife crisis, have primarily looked at it in terms of social forces. So there's psychological and socio-psychological explanations that were offered, things about money and so on and so forth.
And while I wouldn't say that, you know, one can completely rule that out, what this shows is that there's actually something deeper and more biological going on here, something that probably exists in our common ancestors that we shared with these species. And that this midlife crisis, you know, there's nothing wrong with you.
You know, the question is what do you do with that? And one thing we thought is maybe this is evolution's way of saying when you get to this point in life, you know, you're pretty well off in your resources. You know, you're probably about as high as you'll go in your work. Maybe now is the time to sort of strike out, do something bold and different.
And, you know, this explains the timing, because if you were satisfied at midlife you may not take these risks that may be very rewarding. So I think one can take kind of a positive message home.
SIMON: Dr. Alex Weiss, a senior lecturer at University of Edinburgh. Thanks very much for being with us.
WEISS: Thanks a lot.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
SIMON: This is NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.