Monkey study helps explain stress of 'middle managers'

Barbary macaques The Barbary macaques were observed for nearly 600 hours

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Monkey behaviour may help to explain why middle managers suffer the most stress at work, according to a study at two leading universities.

Researchers in Liverpool and Manchester observed female Barbary macaques for almost 600 hours, recording all incidences of social behaviour.

They found that "middle hierarchy" monkeys experienced the most amount of stress.

The group's social ranking has been compared to human middle managers.

Katie Edwards, a biologist at the University of Liverpool, believes the findings can be applied to humans.

She said: "People working in middle management might have higher levels of stress hormones compared to their boss at the top or the workers they manage.

"They may want to access the higher-ranking lifestyle which could mean facing more challenges, whilst also having to maintain their authority over lower-ranking workers."

The findings show that social conflict was the cause of the stress and can be compared to problems experienced by ambitious mid-ranking people.

'Screaming and grimacing'

Dr Susanne Shultz, a research fellow at the University of Manchester, who oversaw the study, said: "What we found was that monkeys in the middle of the hierarchy are involved with conflict from those below them as well as from above, whereas those in the bottom of the hierarchy distance themselves from conflict.

Barbary macaques

  • Barbary macaques are the only non-human primates found in Europe.
  • There is a small population on Gibraltar although most can be found in Morocco and northern Algeria.
  • Tradition says the British will only leave the Rock of Gibraltar when its Barbary macaques go.
  • They live in troops of as many as 100.
  • Males help care for the young, including the offspring of others. This is perhaps because females mate with all male members so paternity is uncertain.

Source: BBC Nature

"The middle-ranking macaques are more likely to challenge, and be challenged."

The research involved monitoring a single female macaque over one day observing three types of behaviour: agonistic (threats, chases, slaps), submissive (screaming, grimacing, hind-quarter presentation) and affiliative (teeth chattering, embracing and grooming).

The following day the same female's faecal samples were analysed for stress hormones at Chester Zoo's laboratory.

The findings showed that the highest levels of stress hormones were recorded after the monkeys experienced aggressive behaviour.

Previous studies have followed a group over a period of time and looked at average behaviours and hormone levels.

This study, however, allowed the researchers to link the behaviour of specific monkeys with their hormone samples from the period when they were displaying that behaviour, a university spokesperson said.

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