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Humans may be more impulsive than chimps: study

“Adolescent chimpanzees are in some sense facing the same psychological tempest that human teens are."

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By Alice Clifford via SWNS

Chimpanzees and human teenagers are both risk takers - but humans may be more impulsive than their ape counterparts, scientists revealed.

When offered the choice of taking a gamble on an unknown snack or a safe option, most human and chimp teens would take the risk, researchers discovered.

But when given the option to take one snack right away or to wait a minute for three snacks, most chimpanzees were happy to wait, a new study found.

Human adolescents were more impulsive and more likely to grab the snack straight away, experts said.

Chimpanzees can live to be 50 years old and experience adolescence when they are around eight to 15.

Like humans, they show rapid changes in hormone levels during this period, start forming new bonds with peers, become more aggressive, and compete for social status.

Dr. Alexandra Rosati, an associate professor of psychology and anthropology at the University of Michigan, and the lead author of the study, said: “Adolescent chimpanzees are in some sense facing the same psychological tempest that human teens are.

“Our findings show that several key features of human adolescent psychology are also seen in our closest primate relatives.”

The researchers studied 40 wild-born chimpanzees at a sanctuary in the Republic of Congo and carried out two tests that involved food rewards.

The chimpanzees voluntarily participated in the games in order to receive food treats.

In the first test, both adolescent and adult chimpanzees chose between two containers in a gambling task.

One container always contained peanuts, a food that chimpanzees like.

The other container was concealed and held inside either a cucumber slice, a food they don’t like, or a banana slice, their favorite food.

The choice was to play it safe and go for the peanuts, or take the chance for a banana, risking ending up with an unappetizing cucumber.

Chimpanzee in Ngamba Island Chimpanzee Sanctuary, on Ngamba Island, Lake Victoria, Uganda
(Greens and Blues via Shutterstock)

The chimpanzees’ emotional reactions and vocalizations were recorded. These included moans, whimpers, screams, banging on the table or scratching themselves.

Saliva samples also were collected to track hormone levels.

During several rounds of the test, similarly to human teens, the adolescent chimpanzees took the risky option more often than adult chimpanzees.

However, adolescents and adults had similar negative reactions when they received cucumber.

The chimps also were tested on their ability to wait and were given the option to receive one banana slice immediately or wait for one minute to receive three slices.

Both adolescent and adult chimpanzees chose the greater delayed reward at a similar rate.

But the adolescent chimpanzees threw more tantrums during the one-minute delay than the adult chimps, researchers said.

Human teens were more impulsive than adults and were more likely to take the immediate reward.

Dr. Rosati added: “Prior research indicates that chimpanzees are quite patient compared with other animals, and our study shows that their ability to delay gratification is already mature at a fairly young age, unlike in humans.”

The study gets at the age-old nature or nurture question about why adolescents take more risks.

Both chimpanzee and human teens showed a tendency to take a gamble suggesting that risk-taking behavior is deeply biologically ingrained, the scientists said.

The research was published online in the Journal of Experimental Psychology.

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