You may have noticed, over time, you begin to shrink your social circle. During the teen years, of course, one of the most important goals in life is to develop a lot of friends. But as we get older we start to realize that we need fewer friends and more quality relationships. As a result, we start to shed those social pals in order to more effectively invest in quality, long-term, deeply-rooted friendships.
Now, it might seem that this is a human phenomenon; something that we developed as our intelligence grew and we began to rely less on social structures for safety and health and into a more independent mindset. However, a new study says that this trait may be far more primitive.
Laura Almeling, of the German Primate Center, in Göttingen, Germany, says, “An important psychological theory suggests that humans become more socially selective when they know that their remaining life time is limited, such as in old age. We assume that monkeys are not aware of their own limited future time. Therefore, if they show similar motivational changes in old age, their selectivity cannot be attributed to their knowledge about a limited future time. Instead, we should entertain the possibility that similar physiological changes in aging monkeys and humans contribute to increased selectivity.”
She goes on to explain that as monkeys age, it seems they become more selective in their social interactions. She notes, “They had fewer ‘friends’ and invested less in social interactions. Interestingly, however, they were still interested in what was going on in their social world,” adding also, “Older females continued to respond particularly strongly to hearing a scream for help from their best friend.”
Almeling also comments that older males seem to prefer pictures of newborns, noting too that Barbary macaque males consider infants to be status symbols.
Overall, we can see, that this study suggests monkeys and humans are even more alike than we thought: they become more socially selective with age. More importantly, the study tells us that monkeys tend to choose social over non-social information, but also that they are more selective in regards to their social interactions.
At the same time, though, this reduced behavior is not necessarily due to a general loss of interest in others members of the community. University of Zurich developmental psychologist Alexandra Freund shares, “Changes in social behavior in monkeys and humans may occur in the absence of a limited time perspective and are most likely deeply rooted in primate evolution,” concluding that “This clearly tells us that we, as humans, are not unique in the way we age socially but that there might be an evolutionary ‘deep’ root in this pattern.”