Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938

Midlife Crisis in Great Apes

By Magdeline Lum

Chimpanzees suffer a midlife crisis, and psychologists explore why we get itchy when we see someone else scratching.

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.

The midlife crisis is no longer the exclusive domain of humans. A study of 508 chimpanzees and orangutans from zoos and research centres throughout the USA, Canada, Singapore, Japan and Australia has found that they also experience a midlife crisis, indicating it could be inherent in primate biology rather than something specific to human society.

Caretakers and other observers were asked to complete a questionnaire to assess the well-being of the apes under their care. Questions were subjective assessments of how the apes reacted in social situations and level of enthusiasm and success in completing tasks.

The final question asked keepers to imagine themselves as the apes and how happy they would be if they were that ape for a week. This was done for each ape, from infants to the older members of the family group.

When the results were collected and analysed, the contentment levels of middle-aged apes were comparable to humans between the ages of 45–50. There was no doubt they were experiencing a midlife crisis.

This suggests that the midlife crisis may be something that has been passed through evolution rather than something caused by the pressures and troubles of modern life.

However, it is not clear what benefit the midlife malcontent would provide. One suggestion is that it may spur a family group to shift towards more attainable...

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.