Social Relationships Cause Baboons--And Possibly Humans--to Live Longer Lives

First Posted: Sep 10, 2014 11:03 AM EDT

It turns out that social relationships don't just matter for humans; they also matter for baboons. Scientists have taken a closer look at the social relationships between baboons and have found that social bonds actually made the difference when it came to survival.

The researchers examined a data set on the social relationships of wild baboons that was collected on an almost daily basis, year-round, since 1984. The scientists focused on grooming interactions, which are a sign of social support.

"There was one big challenge to conducting a study like ours, keeping the long-term field study going over several decades to collect the data we needed," said Elizabeth Archie, one of the researchers, in a news release. "Baboons in the wild can live for over 2 years, so we needed many years of data to accurately measure the baboons' life spans."

The scientists found that females that were socially connected to both adult males and females lived longer than females with weak ties to one or both sexes. This, in particular, shows that social relationships play a role when it comes to variation in lifespan.

"I think the results are applicable to humans," said Archie. "Specifically, there have been a handful of studies that have shown that an animal's social connections can predict their longevity, including research on rats, dolphins and baboons. Our results help confirm this phenomenon in mammals and suggest it might be widely shared across several social species. In addition, we see very strong evidence that social relationships predict human lifespan. Across a range of circumstances, people who receive more social support tend to live longer than people who are socially isolated. Our results suggest that this phenomenon might be part of our shared biological history with other mammals."

The findings are published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

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