A committee from the National Institutes of Health recently recommended that scientists retire a majority of the chimpanzees currently being used for federally-funded medical research in the United States. It’s worth taking a look back at some of the things we’ve learned by studying chimps, monkeys, and other non-human primates over the years. The methodology of some research is unsettling — but the conclusions do lead to a better understanding of who we are.
- Stress early in life can lead to drinking later in life
This is, perhaps, not a huge surprise, but at least now you know you can blame your childhood for your drinking habits. Researchers compared the alcohol consumption of two different groups ofrhesus monkeys, one raised without adult contact and comfort, and another raised with their mothers. When the monkeys were roughly 4 years old, they were given access to alcohol, and the monkeys raised away from their mothers drank more alcohol more often than the mother-reared monkeys. Of course, even those of us with the most stable childhoods can be driven to drink. When the mother-reared monkeys were placed in stressful situations, they increased their alcohol consumption, too.
- We’re not the only primates capable of selfless acts
Can non-human primates experience empathy? Can they understand and share in another’s feelings? Research suggests it’s very possible. In one 1964 study, a group of six rhesus monkeys were taught to pull a chain to receive a helping of food. At one point, a seventh monkey was introduced to the group, and each time the first six pulled the lever for food, the new guy would get a painful electric shock. In response, the monkeys did one of two things: Some pulled a separate chain that administered less food, but didn’t shock their companion. Others stopped eating entirely. One monkey went 12 days without eating to ensure it did not shock the others.