Skip to main content

Are social skills determined by early live experiences?

Periodic Reporting for period 4 - ApeAttachment (Are social skills determined by early live experiences?)

Periodo di rendicontazione: 2020-10-01 al 2021-09-30

• Social bonding success in life impacts on health, survival and fitness. It is proposed that early and later social experience as well as heritable factors determine social bonding abilities in adulthood, although the relative influence of each is unclear. In humans, the resulting uncertainty likely impedes psychological and psychiatric assessment and therapy. One problem hampering progress for human studies is that social bonding success is hard to objectively quantify, particularly in adults. I propose to directly address this problem by determining the key influences on social bonding abilities in chimpanzees, our closest living relative, where social bonding success can be objectively quantified, and is defined as number of affiliative relationships maintained over time with high rates of affiliation.
• Objectives. This project will quantify the relative impact of early and later social experience as well as heritable factors on social hormone levels, social cognition and social bonding success in 270 wild and captive chimpanzees, using both cohort and longitudinal data. This will reveal the degree of plasticity in social cognition and bonding behaviour throughout life. Finally, it will evaluate the potential for using endogenous hormone levels as non-invasive biomarkers of social bonding success, as well as identifying social contexts that act as strong natural social hormone releasers.
• Outcomes. This project will expose what makes some better at social bonding than others. Specifically, it will show the extent to which later social experience can compensate for early social experience or heritable factors in terms of adult social bonding success, the latter being a key factor in determining health and happiness in life. This project also offers the potential for using hormonal biomarkers in clinical settings, as objective assessment of changes in relationships over time, and in therapy by engaging in social behaviours that act as strong social hormone releasers.
My team has successfully conducted extensive detailed behavioural, hormonal and genetic data collection across 5 wild communities of chimpanzees in two subspecies. First results include how being orphaned as a chimpanzee has dramatic impacts on both growth and survival. Our results highlight our shared life history with chimpanzees, that prolonged juvenile dependency is not only a phenomenon in human primates but also in our closest living relatives, chimpanzees. This brings under the spotlight why chimpanzees require such a protracted juvenile dependency. Presumably considerable learning is required to find food – chimpanzees are known for specializing in patchy ephemeral food sources, like ripe fruit – and to navigate social life so that social support and cooperation is a buffer to the intense contest competition that chimpanzees experience (eg Samuni et al. 2017 PNAS, Samuni et al. 2018 Communications Biology, Samuni et al. 2018 Roy Soc Ser B).
I have also established collaborations with neuroscientists and psychiatrists to test endogenous oxytocin as a biomarker for social engagement in people living with asocial disorders.
At the end of this project, we will not only understand the impact of variable mother-offspring attachment on adult social skills, but will have a greater understanding of the evolution of human life history traits, and phenotypic flexibility in cooperative, cognitive and communicative traits, by examining these features in a complex model species living in its natural habitat, chimpanzees.
I also expect to have tested whether oxytocin is a viable biomarker in clinical settings for assessing progress in therapy for people living with asocial disorders.
Orphaned chimpanzee sitting with his adult male adopter.