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A happy life is a long one for orangutans

Date:
June 29, 2011
Source:
Society for Experimental Biology
Summary:
New research has shown that happier orangutans live longer which may provide insight into the evolution of happiness in humans. Researchers asked keepers who work with orangutans to answer questions about happiness on the animals' behalf. Orangutans which were scored as happier by their keepers were more likely to live longer.

Judgments of how "happy" captive orangutans are indicate how long they will live.
Credit: Richard Sonnen

New research has shown that happier orangutans live longer which may shed light on the evolution of happiness in humans.

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Dr. Alexander Weiss and colleagues at the University of Edinburgh and the University of Arizona, who are presenting their paper published in Royal Society journal Biology Letters at the Society for Experimental Biology Annual Conference in Glasgow on July 3, 2011, used an innovative approach to assessing happiness by asking keepers who work with orangutans to answer questions on the animals' behalf.

The keepers were asked how often the orangutan was in a good mood as opposed to a bad mood, how much it enjoyed social interactions and whether it was effective at achieving its goals. The keepers were also asked to speculate as to how happy they would be if they were the animal in question.

Of the 184 orangutans included in the study those which were scored as happier by their keepers were significantly more likely to be alive up to seven years later. The effect remained even when factors such as sex, age and species were taken into account.

The Evolution of Happiness

These results could shed light on how happiness evolved, not just in orangutans but all primates, including ourselves. Dr. Weiss says "Already we have shown that certain personality traits linked to happiness share the same genetic basis in humans and chimpanzees. Studying these relationships across a wide range of species could yield fascinating insights into the evolutionary bases of happiness, depression and a host of other psychological characteristics that impact the lives of humans and, most likely, a range of other species."

One theory of how happiness evolved is sexual selection; a happier individual might be more attractive to the opposite sex because they are likely to live longer, and vice versa. Dr. Weiss suggests that in the future other researchers might look to dating websites for information, to discover whether the profiles of individuals who rate themselves as happier are more popular.

Although happiness has been linked to longer life in humans, and now orangutans, the basis for this is not well-understood. Dr. Weiss says: "It is unlikely that happiness causes longer life, the association is almost certainly more complex." The next step for scientists in understanding the importance of happiness in the lives of orangutans will be to assess whether happiness and health are governed by the same genes.

Animal Welfare Applications

This research also shows that the insight of orangutan keepers should be taken seriously as it can give vital information on the animal's well being.

Using simple questions like those in the current study would provide an efficient, low cost method of assessing the well being of orangutans in zoos all over the world. Monitoring orangutan health and well being in this way will help, says Dr. Weiss, "to ensure that orangutans too live 'happily ever after'."


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Society for Experimental Biology. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. A. Weiss, M. J. Adams, J. E. King. Happy orang-utans live longer lives. Biology Letters, 2011; DOI: 10.1098/rsbl.2011.0543

Cite This Page:

Society for Experimental Biology. "A happy life is a long one for orangutans." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 29 June 2011. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/06/110628191343.htm>.
Society for Experimental Biology. (2011, June 29). A happy life is a long one for orangutans. ScienceDaily. Retrieved March 4, 2015 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/06/110628191343.htm
Society for Experimental Biology. "A happy life is a long one for orangutans." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/06/110628191343.htm (accessed March 4, 2015).

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