Of monkeys and men: the benefits of a lads’ night out

Findings from a recent study on the bonding patterns of male monkeys have indicated that group activities between men can have positive health effects, leading to decreased stress and better health. These findings are now being applied to human life, with researchers theorising that similar effects can be seen with men who engage in “lads’s nights out”.

Researchers at the Universities of Göttingen, South Africa and Lincoln, alongside the German Primate Center, have been collecting evidence to support a theory known as the “social buffering hypothesis”. This is where certain mammals are hypothesised to form bonds akin to human friendship as “buffers against adverse effects of increased physiological stress levels.” The mammals being used to gather this information are the male Barbary macaques, a type of monkey native to the Atlas Mountains of Morocco and Algeria, which are known for having similar behavioural and socialisation patterns to humans.

Previously, evidence to support the hypothesis was primarily found in female Barbary macaques, who engage in “tend-and-befriend” behaviours – including mutual grooming and play – as a means of socialisation and support with one another. However, upon further observation it has been found that male Barbary macaques also engage in this type of behaviour, outside of the usually documented realms of familial relations and mating bonds. A study by the researchers, held in Morocco, found that “these males form strong, enduring, and equitable affiliative relationships similar to human friendships.” In fact, male macaques with many male friends were found to be less stressed than those who spent more time with family, or mates of the opposite sex.

The research paper also considered the possibility that, like humans, the macaques were more likely to befriend others in a similar age range, and the types and numbers of friendships formed were dictated by each macaque’s individual personality.

The benefits of these friendships were measured through looking at the production of stress hormones in male Barbary macaques and the mortality rate among the population. It was found that heightened production of stress hormones over an extended period of time caused a higher chance of mortality in the macaques, but that maintaining close friendship bonds with several other males acted as a “buffer” against the production of stress hormones. This led to an increased chance of survival, especially over the winter when physiological stresses were heightened by the decrease in temperature.

As well as these male friendships causing less competition and fighting over mates in the population and therefore less stress, the social support available through acts such as grooming is found to release the hormone oxytocin. This is commonly known as the “love hormone”, which increases bonding and decreases stress levels, leading to better overall health amongst the male Barbary macaque population.

Similarities can easily be seen between the macaques and humans – naturally, we tend to go to our friends for support and to have fun, especially when stressed.

So, the next time your alarm wakes you up for a 9am lecture and you’re hungover after a night out soaked in alcohol, know that in the scheme of things, it might just help you live longer. Although this can be no justification for the liver damage and adverse health effects that binge drinking can cause!

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