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Monkeys, like people, can ‘lock up under pressure’

Being stressed about doing well on a test might not be limited to humans, according to a new study led by researchers at Georgia State University.

The researchers say the study, which involved tufted capuchin monkeys living in groups at the Georgia State Language Research Center, is the first to specifically explore whether other species experience pressure to perform.

The monkeys were assigned a computerized matching task. Some tests were indicated to be more difficult, with a higher possible reward and a time-out consequence for incorrect answers, while other tests had the typical difficulty of their usual computing tasks.

The team found that there was significant variation in how individual monkeys responded to these tests when the difference in difficulty was removed, suggesting that for some monkeys, high-risk cues were enough to affect performance.

“There are several different explanations for why humans can ‘drown’ or ‘thrive’ under pressure, but all of these explanations have traditionally considered this sensitivity to pressure to be a trait specific to humans,” the lead author said in a statement. of the study, doctoral candidate Meg Sosnowski.

“Our new results provide the first evidence that other species might also be susceptible to this pressure influence, and that our responses to that pressure are, in part, the result of individual variation in an evolutionarily common stress response.”

The researchers also found that higher levels of a natural stress biomarker, cortisol, were linked to the monkeys’ performance. Higher cortisol levels were associated with a lower ability to successfully complete high-pressure tests, providing evidence that an individual’s long-term stress state might be related to cognitive performance.

“This opens the door not only to explore how responses to pressure might have affected the evolution of cognition, but also provides clues that point us to possible pathways that might mitigate performance deficits, both in humans and in other species.” Sosnowski said.

The article was published in Scientific Reports.

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