Blog | Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Monkeys: They're just like us

New research suggests that low-status rhesus monkeys eat fatty "junk" food as a coping strategy, today's New York Times reports:

"The lower status monkeys can get as much food as they want but seem to have less of a desire to eat, perhaps because of the higher level of stress hormones in their brain. The anxiety of constantly toadying to their social superiors seems to curb their appetite, researchers suspect, at least when their regular high-fiber, low-fat chow is on the menu.

But suppose you tempted them with the equivalent of chocolate and potato chips and ice cream? Mark Wilson, a neuroscientist at Emory University, and a team tried that experiment at Yerkes by installing feeders with a constant supply of banana-flavored pellets-- not exactly Dove bars, but they had enough sugar and fat to appeal even to human palates. (In the interest of science, I sampled a few pellets.)

Once these foods were available, the low-status monkeys promptly developed an appetite. They began eating significantly more calories than their social superiors. While the dominant monkeys dabbled in the sweet, fatty pellets just during the daytime, the subordinate monkeys kept scarfing them down after dark. "

...I can't decide if this is sad or cute. Maybe a bit of both.

On a (barely) related note, I once interviewed a guy who decided to eat only monkey chow for a solid week. He kept a blog and a video diary of the experiment. (Warning: both blog and videos may contain explicit language.)