The Monkey In The Middle Found To Have The Most Stress
April 2, 2013

The Monkey In The Middle Found To Have The Most Stress

Michael Harper for — Your Universe Online

Here´s a story which certainly won´t make anyone in middle management feel better about their jobs. According to a new study about the behavior of monkeys, those who find themselves in the middle of the pecking order, like middle managers, face more stress during their day.

Researchers from Liverpool´s Institute of Integrative Biology, Chester Zoo and The University of Manchester conducted the study which has been published in the journal General and Comparative Endocrinology.

Katie Edwards with the Institute of Integrative Biology had the unpleasant task of watching female Barbary macaques at Trentham Monkey Forest in Staffordshire for over 600 hours. Each day, Edwards would observe a single, female monkey and record the types of behavior this specimen exhibited throughout the day. These behaviors fell into one of three categories: Affiliative behavior, Agnostic behavior and Submissive behavior.

Affiliative behavior included actions such as embracing, grooming and teeth-chattering. In other words, these behaviors were exchanged between happy monkeys during the good times. Agnostic behavior includes more angry actions, such as slapping one another or threatening one another. Monkeys engaging in agnostic behavior would also chase other inferior monkeys. Submissive behavior includes screaming or grimacing and the ever-popular bearing of the bottom.

Edwards recorded each of the behaviors and would return the following day to obtain stool samples from the individual monkey she spent the previous day monitoring. These samples were then analyzed for stress hormones at the Chester Zoo lab.

“Not unsurprisingly we recorded the highest level of stress hormones on the days following agonistic behaviour,” said Edwards in a press statement. “However, we didn´t find a link between lower stress hormone levels and affiliative behaviour such as grooming.”

Dr. Susanne Shultz with the University of Manchester points out the social status of these monkeys also determined how much stress they felt throughout the day.

“What we found was that monkeys in the middle of the hierarchy are involved with conflict from those below them as well as from above, whereas those in the bottom of the hierarchy distance themselves from conflict. The middle ranking macaques are more likely to challenge, and be challenged by, those higher on the social ladder.”

After spending 600 hours watching the monkeys, Edwards believes the same results could be applied to human behavior, particularly when applied to humans in middle management.

“It´s possible to apply these findings to other social species too, including human hierarchies,” explains Edwards.

“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.”

Monkeys and humans have been found to be quite similar in a number of ways. We share some of the same genetics and even move in some of the same ways. Though it´s not entirely flattering, this study proves that we´re prone to the same stress levels as monkeys, particularly those who work in middle management.