Baboon politics say a lot about human politics: It’s tough to be on top, and the key to staying there is to know when to stress over the competition.
Professor of Neuroscience at Stanford University, and author of Behave: The Biology of Humans at Our Best and Worst, Robert Sapolsky tells us what humans can learn from the baboons. The following is a transcript.
And the embarrassing thing is, like, I can do like weekend seminars in hot tubs in like Big Sur with baboons in there, teaching them how to be chill about this stuff in terms of how intuitively obvious it is.
You’re a baboon and you need some advice as to how not to be stressed out in the world. If you got a choice in the matter between bbeing a high-ranking baboon or a baboon that does a lot of social grooming, cchoose the latter if you want to have low blood pressure.
If you’re going to be a high-ranking baboon, your health is going to be a whole lot better if you could tell the difference between your worst rival on Earth threatening you in your face, or your worst rival taking a nap 100 yards away.
If your worst rival snoring over there gets you just as agitated and worked up, you’re going to have stress hormone levels in your blood streams as if you’re number 400 in the dominance hierarchy there.
If you’re going to be a high-ranking baboon and you are being threatened, can you at least take some control over the situation? Do you decide when the fight begins? Can you exert some control? That’s a predictor of much better health.
Can you tell the difference between whether the outcome of a fight was good or bad?
Like if you can’t tell the difference, you can’t tell if you just gotten a promotion or demotion, your health is going to be much worse.
And finally, if you’ve just have had a bad social outcome, can you go and come up with some social outlet grooming or, really depressingly, beating up on somebody smaller than you? Or do you go and mope by yourself in the forest? What’s that telling you?Can you tell the difference between the big things and the little things? If it’s a big thing that’s bad can you at least get some control? Can you tell if the outcome is good or bad and if it’s bad you have some coping mechanisms?
And it doesn’t take a whole lot of work to see how this translates from that primate species to another one.
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