"Human adolescents are grappling with changing bodies and brains, and tend to be more impulsive, risk-seeking, and less able to regulate emotions than adults," says University of Michigan psychology/anthropologist Dr. Alexandra Rosati. "Chimpanzees face many of the same kinds of challenges as humans as they grow up."
Rosati is lead author of a new study published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology that examines decision-making in teen chimpanzees and finds similarities in human adolescence. The researchers devised tests that compared adult and teen chimps' risk-taking behaviors and tolerance for delayed gratification.
Teen chimps and teen humans are both much more likely to take risks than adults of their species, the scientists report. But when it comes to delayed gratification, teen chimps are more comfortable waiting for a "larger, delayed reward" than human teens who refuse to wait, even if the immediate reward is smaller.
The study described chimpanzees' adolescence as a period from about ages 8 to 15 in a 50-year life span. Like young humans, they experience rapid hormone changes, new social bonds, increased aggression and a competition for social status.
Teen chimpanzees are overlooked in studies compared with infants and adults, said Dr. Aaron Sandel, an assistant professor of anthropology at the University of Texas at Austin, who was not involved in the current study.
"For a while there was a pretty big gap in the literature on (chimpanzee) adolescents," Sandel said, noting that researchers often don't focus on this period. Scientists may avoid studying teen chimps because their own human experiences with teenage years are complicated, he said[…]
Sandel noted that it is important to be careful about comparing the experience of humans with other animals. While primates are our closest relatives, we are different species, he pointed out.