Until recently, scientists believed that humans` tendency to isolate as they grow old is related to the awareness that time is precious and limited. The social network of elders tends to shrink with age as people realize that time is more important than the appearance of popularity. However, a new study found that this trend may have some evolutionary roots.
As time passes, people get pickier, and their social behavior tends to become more focused on things that they consider important. However, humans and monkeys are distant relatives, separated by millions of years of evolution.
Despite this link, researchers were surprised to find that primates share the same behavioral patterns as humans once they grow old.
Recently published in “Current Biology”, the study was carried out by researchers at German Primate Center in Goettingen. Dr. Alexandra Freund and her colleagues went to an enclosed park in southern France to investigate the behavior of one hundred Barbary macaque monkeys with ages between 4 and 29.
Their discovery that primates become more selective with age raises a few questions. Since it is believed that primates have no awareness of death, researchers are curious to find out if there is a link between age and social behavior which goes beyond humans` capacity to comprehend that life is limited.
During this observational project, they analyzed the monkeys` reaction to novelty and their response to different social interactions.
According to the study, once primates hit the reproduction age, they become less and less interested in toys. As soon as they reach the age of twenty (which in humans is similar to the age of retirement), monkeys become more and more selective with their friends.
As per one of the researchers, Julia Fischer, the old Barbary macaque monkeys were not ignored by youngsters, on the contrary. Young specimens still groomed and frequently approached the elders. Moreover, their involvement in social life was still very much present; they did observe other social interactions and hissed during fights.
Even though they were very much connected to what was going on inside their community, their interest in getting involved decreased.
Without being able to explain the origin of this social behavior, scientists believe that analyzing the biological foundations of aging may offer a better understanding of the preferences of elder human beings.
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