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"Status Simian" -- The Discovery Files

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A study by the University of Notre Dame and Princeton and Duke universities finds that high-ranking male baboons recover more quickly from injuries and are less likely to become ill than other males.

Credit: NSF/Karson Productions

Audio Transcript:

(Sound effect: single baboon) For baboons, rank has its privileges.

I'm Bob Karson with the discovery files--new advances in science and engineering from the National Science Foundation.

What can baboons teach us about social status?

Biologists at Notre Dame, Princeton and Duke Universities studied how rank among male baboons relates to overall health. (Sound effect: baboons in the wild) They examined 27 years of health data from the Amboseli baboon research project in Kenya. Information gathered not in the lab, but in the wild.

The team looked at records for high and low ranking baboons and how differences in age, physical condition, stress, reproductive effort and testosterone levels affected their immune function. High-ranking males got sick less often and recovered more quickly from injuries. For those on the other end of baboon society, the researchers say that chronic stress, old age and poor physical condition associated with low rank may suppress immune function.

So while baboon life is stressful for both the lowly and the high-and-mighty, the study suggests several factors that go with being at the top may protect males from the negative effects of stress.

Identifying the biological mechanisms at play here could help us understand how human social status affects death and disease.

(Sound effect: baboons) High-ranking baboons--oh, that reminds me, I've got to get this to my editor.

"The discovery files" covers projects funded by the government's national science foundation. Federally sponsored research--brought to you, by you! Learn more at or on our podcast.

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