September 26, 2008 at 3:32 am #29208
note: This is a fascinating study, the message here for Tao practitioners: Don’t be an ape, relax and practice more, you’ll live to enjoy your life.
IT’S A STRESSFUL LIFE FOR BABOONS, HUMANS
By Thea Trachtenberg and Raina Gitlin
September 22, 2008
Baboons are aggressive, mean-spirited and wild. And when it comes to stress,
apparently they are just like humans.
Stanford University neurobiologist Robert Sapolsky has been decoding the
mysteries of stress by studying baboons from Kenya’s plains, and he
discovered that the animal’s rank as a leader or a follower had a direct
link to the level of stress hormones in its system.
“You’re a baboon and you only have to spend about three hours a day getting
your calories,” Sapolsky said. “You’ve got nine hours of free time every day
to devote to making somebody else just miserable.”
The Truth About Baboons and People
Sapolsky’s research uncovered that dominant males had the lowest stress
levels, while submissive baboons were in worse health with increased heart
rates and higher blood pressure.
“Basically if you’re a stressed unhealthy baboon in a typical troop,”
Sapolsky said, “you have an immune system that doesn’t work as well. Your
brain chemistry is one that bears some similarity to what you see in
clinically depressed humans.”
And for the baboons, the stress isn’t just coming from the daily trials and
tribulations of living in the wild.
“They’re not being stressed by lions chasing them all the time. They are
being stressed by each other.” Sapolsky said. “They’re a perfect model for
westernized stress related disease.”
British professor Sir Michael Marmot, who studied the health of civil
servants, said the similarities between the baboon troop and humans are
“It showed that the lower you were in the hierarchy, the higher your risk of
heart disease and other disease,” Marmot said.
In his research Marmot studied Kevin Brooks, a man low on the totem pole and
whose work stress literally has made him sick.
“Out of the last three years at work, I’ve been off sick for probably half
that time,” Brooks said.
What It All Means
Just as Sapolsky found out more about stress from baboons, he again turned
to the animal kingdom to find a solution.
“The Keekerok troop is the one I started with 30 years ago,” he said.
“[Then] something horrific and scientifically very interesting happened to
The troop of baboons had taken to foraging for food in the garbage dump of a
tourist lodge and ate meat that was tainted with tuberculosis. Nearly half
the males died. But exactly who had died was surprising.
“In that troop, if you were aggressive and if you were not particularly
socially connected,” Sapolsky said. “You died.”
“What you were left with was twice as many females as males and the males
who were remaining were, you know, just to use the scientific jargon, they
were good guys,” he added.
The troop was transformed on the inside as well.
“Do these guys have the same problems with high blood pressure? Nope. Do
these guys have the same problems with brain chemistry related to anxiety,
stress hormone levels? Not at all,” Sapolsky said.
It all boils down to one point.
“Give people more involvement in their work, give them more say in what
they’re doing, give them more reward for the amount of effort they put out
and it might well be that you’ll have not just a healthier workplace, but a
more productive one as well,” Marmot said.October 1, 2008 at 11:02 pm #29209
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