Monkeys in the middle suffer the most social stress, and, if you’re a middle class middle manager, maybe you know the feeling. That’s the conclusion of a study conducted in the UK by Katie Edwards and colleagues, who spent roughly 600 hours watching female Barbary macaque monkeys at Trentham Monkey Forest in Staffordshire.
Their findings are being published in the journal General and Comparative Endocrinology, so possibly you can hold the jokes about how they’re just monkeying around.
Actually, the study sounded pretty intense. Edwards would spend an entire day following one female monkey and recording every bit of social behavior – everything from tender gestures like hugging and grooming to angry activities like chasing and slapping. The next day, that female’s droppings would be collected so that they could be analyzed for stress hormones at Chester Zoo’s wildlife lab.
The highest level of stress hormones were found after days when the monkey in question was involved in lots of so-called agonistic behavior — threatening, chasing, and slapping other individuals. And, contrary to expectations, affectionate behavior didn’t seem to lower the levels of stress hormones.
She also recorded each monkey’s position in the social hierarchy. As a result, the researchers determined that the monkeys in the middle were caught in conflicts from both sides. Monkeys at the bottom simply kept their distance from the fray.
Edward didn’t hesitate to draw the analogy to humans: “People working in middle management might have higher levels of stress hormones compared to their boss at the top or the workers they manage. These ambitious mid-ranking people may want to access the higher-ranking lifestyle which could mean facing more challenges, whilst also having to maintain their authority over lower-ranking workers.”
Maybe, and I hope I’m not being sexist here, but the monkeys in the middle were in fact females, even mothers. The status-seeking wasn’t about getting the corner office and becoming a CEO. It was more about who’s the most popular witch-with-a-b in the Trentham Monkey Forest, don’t you think?
Oh, don’t get me wrong. Who doesn’t automatically think about monkeys when they think about middle managers? And it’s fun to imagine status-climbing macaque monkeys in light of a study released last month that purported to teach the Japanese macaque monkey how to use tokens of exchange — in other words, money.
But I think the study might say more about the stress that comes from the social world than it does about the office. What conclusion do you take away from the monkey in the middle research?
[photo mother Barbary macaque monkey mother and baby courtesy Trentham Monkey Reserve in Staffordshire, UK]
[photo Barbary macaque monkey RedCoat via Wikipedia Commons]