Ape Tantrums: Our Close Primate Relative Throws Fits, Too

By Philip Ross on May 31, 2013 4:58 PM EDT

ape tantrums
A new study says that ape tantrums mirror human fits of frustration. Chimpanzees, mankind’s closest animal relative, are also our most emotional. (Photo: Reuters)

Ape tantrums, much like human emotional fits, are common among chimps and bonobos. A new study says that the apes even huffed and moaned when frustrated or annoyed, much like a pouting child would.

At two ape sanctuaries in the Republic of Congo, researchers played games with the chimps and bonobos and studied their reaction to loss and having to wait for a reward. The BBC reports that researchers from Duke University came up with decision-making games for the chimps to play, and gave them rewards in the form of treats based on what they chose.

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The first game involved the chimps choosing between getting a small food reward immediately or a larger reward later on. The second scheme had the apes choose between a "safe" and a "risky" option; the safe one being six peanuts under a bowl, and the risky option being a bowl that contained either a slice of cucumber or a slice of banana.

When some of the apes chose the bland piece of cucumber over the more desirable banana slice, the ape tantrums ensued. According to Discovery News, the apes moaned, screamed and whimpered, all of which convey distress or frustration.

"Some of the reactions look similar to a kid [shouting] 'no, I wanted it!'," lead researcher Dr. Alexandra Rosati told The BBC.

According to National Geographic, humans share 98 percent of our genetic blueprint with chimps. Like us, chimps are social creatures and live in communities of several dozen individuals. They are also one of the few animals that use tools, and they can manipulate and operate small sticks and twigs to their advantage (mainly, to snag insects from their nests or dislodge grubs from logs).

The new study into ape tantrums demonstrates that the emotional responses associated with decision-making, like frustration and regret, are not unique to humans and may be fundamental to ape communities as well.

Another study into ape behavior from 2012 showed that apes, also like humans, suffer "midlife crises." USA Today reports that apes exhibited signs of emotional distress at life's midpoint, and that the U-shape emotional health trajectory that most humans experience throughout their lives was also characteristic of primates.

"We [found] evidence that well-being is lowest in chimpanzees and orangutans at an age that roughly corresponds to midlife in humans," co-author of the ape midlife crisis study Alex Weiss, a psychologist at Edinburgh University, told the Guardian. "On average, well-being scores are lowest when animals are around 30 years old."

Read more from iScience Times:

Do Monkeys Know What Others Need?

Changes in Monkeys' Social Status Affect Their Genes

Turtle Shell Evolved From Ribs: Does New Fossil Research Settle Dispute?

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