March 28, 2023

At puberty, chimpanzees and humans exhibit similar behaviors

A new study, published in the scientific journal Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, demonstrated that the behavior of adolescent chimpanzees is not so different from that of human adolescents. “Adolescent chimpanzees face, in a sense, the same psychological storm as human adolescents. Our findings show that several key features of human adolescent psychology are also seen in our closest primate relatives.”

Chimpanzees enter puberty between the ages of eight and 15 and, like humans, undergo rapid changes during this time: they begin to form new bonds with their peers, show increased aggression and compete for social status.

The researchers conducted two main experiments with 40 chimpanzees born in a sanctuary in the Republic of Congo, in which, through food reward trials, they compared impulsivity and tolerance to delayed gratification in adult and adolescent chimpanzees. During the study, the scientists monitored the chimpanzees’ emotional responses and vocalizations, as well as analyzed saliva samples to check their hormone levels.

The first test asked both adult and adolescent chimpanzees to choose between two containers: one that always contained peanuts and the other that contained cucumber or banana. These primates generally have a greater preference for bananas than cucumbers, so both groups showed similar negative reactions such as screaming, moaning and banging on the table when the container contained a cucumber. However, the team observed that the adolescent chimpanzees were more likely to take a risk and choose the container that could contain cucumber than the adults, thus showing a greater propensity to take risks.

The second test looked at delayed gratification, where the chimpanzee could take one serving of banana immediately or wait a minute to get three servings. During this experiment, the researchers found that both adolescent and adult chimpanzees chose the delayed reward at a similar rate.

By comparing this study with previous experiments done on humans, the scientists realized that human teenagers are more impulsive than chimpanzees, being more likely to receive an immediate reward. “Previous research shows that chimpanzees are quite patient compared to other animals. Our study shows that their capacity for delayed gratification is already matured at a very young age, unlike what happens in humans,” Rosati added.

Furthermore, while the adolescent human brain is developing, not all areas of the brain can be fully and optimally used at the same time. Although the brain can grow in size, it is not fully developed until the age of 20. At the front of the brain is the prefrontal cortex, which is associated with complex cognitive processes and is one of the last areas of the brain to mature. This zone temporally organizes behavior, language, and reasoning, serving as the basis for planning, time organization, and emotional control.

“Even so, that doesn’t mean teenagers aren’t capable of making good long-term decisions,” added Hina Talib, MD, a medical specialist and associate professor of pediatrics at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York, “they just need to be helped to prepare.” for the success”.

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