Learning about our emotional health through bonobos

By Casey Frye, CCNN Writer

bonobo mother
Some of the young bonobos in the story were raised by their real mother while others were brought up by humans.

Whenever we see a rowdy group of young kids, it’s not uncommon to say they are “monkeying” around. Well, maybe it’s more accurate to say the loud hooligans are actually “bonobo-ing around,” because according to a new study from Emory University, young bonobo monkeys handle their emotions the same way young human kids do!

It wasn’t just the hollering and joking around that’s similar, but also how they behave in serious situations. For example, the researchers observed how two different types of bonobos reacted in a fight. One of the groups was raised by their own mother, while the other was brought up by human handlers. After the young apes got into a fight, the ones raised by their mothers would immediately run to their group of friends for comfort!

Keep in mind that these are primates, so “comfort” is less about talking and more about eating bugs from each other’s fur, with the occasional hug. Slurping up insects crawling all over your friend may seem gross, but apparently it’s pretty important for the emotional health of the bonobos.

Orphan bonobos, on the other hand, have unique reactions to stressful situations. Instead of seeking out their buddies to calm down and forget about the situation, they continued to scream for several minutes after the fight finished. What’s interesting, is that researchers have found the same patterns in young kids. Humans who come from healthy homes can cope much better with stressful situations when compared to children without parents, who react like the orphan apes.

Even though this experiment shows these primates are very much like young humans, the researchers say they can actually teach us things about ourselves! “This is very important [to help] understand situations when emotions are not regulated, such as in autistic children,” said Frans de Waal, who co-authored the study. “We need to understand typical development, from an evolutionary perspective, to understand atypical development.”

Featured image courtesy of Jeroen Kransen on Flickr. Image of bonobo mother courtesy of Reflexiste on Flickr.