Anxious? You Could Learn Something From Chimps
"So many people now, stuck behind computers and iPads, are missing out on their experience of touch."
If you've ever given someone else a hug, or stroked a child's hair when they're crying, you're basically one big ape.
Primates of all kinds use grooming to reassure each other, make peace when conflict arises and strengthen relationships.
And these grooming sessions can last from just a few minutes to a few HOURS.
"Understanding something about great apes often also helps us understand something about ourselves," Gisela Kaplan, an adjunct professor at the Center for Neuroscience and Animal Behavior at the University of New England in Australia, told The Dodo. "Grooming behavior is a very good example ... its importance to peace, a sense of belonging, friendship and support."
Some apes will even use special signals to ask to be groomed after they've gotten tired of grooming a friend - a sort of "you scratch my back, I'll scratch yours" philosophy. This is called reciprocal altruism.
But this isn't always the case - some primates have been observed grooming a friend, apparently without asking for anything at all in return. Researchers have hypothesized that these individuals have an altogether different sense of altruism, and that their guilt-trip-free grooming favors aim not to satisfy their own needs, but to tighten bonds among the community.
Kaplan cautioned that, while apes are good at remembering to tighten bonds, some humans today might be missing out on this simple, primal need.
"So many people now, stuck behind computers and iPads, are missing out on their experience of touch," she said. "I am not surprised that depression and suicide are on the increase as a result of serious physical self-alienation."
So, remember to occasionally channel your wild, ape ancestors: Reach out and give a friend an actual hug (or even just pick a piece of dust out of his beard). It's good for you.
Curious to learn more about this? There's a whole book written about peacemaking among primates here.