Gorilla Resilience Training

“Resilience”–generally defined as the ability to respond and adapt to challenging situations and to keep going in the face of trauma and adversity–is a prized commodity these days. Many businesses seek to encourage the development of enhanced resilience skills in their employees and offer training to help them become more resilient. Indeed, in many jobs where performance often has to occur in times of stress or under trying circumstances, resilience is a quality that may prove to be the difference between success and failure.

A recent study indicates that your next resilience training session might be taught by a gorilla, or at least draw some tips from their approach to life.

The study, undertaken by the University of Michigan, shows that gorillas are amazingly resilient–more so than humans and other animal species. The study focused on examining gorillas who had experienced trauma, such as the death of their mother, at an early age. In many species, such early life adversity is associated with shorter life spans and additional problems later in life. Gorillas apparently are different. The U of M research revealed that the more adversity gorillas experienced, the more likely they were to die young–but if they survived to the age of six, their lifespans were not shortened. In fact, gorillas who survived three or more early childhood traumas were more likely to live longer than other gorillas.

Why are gorillas more resilient than other species? The researchers who undertook the study believe that one reason is the tight-knit social structure of gorilla communities, where a young gorilla whose mother has died is not left alone, but instead is adopted and supported by the whole clan. They also suspect that the resource-rich environment in which gorillas live helps, by not adding additional stresses, like the need to constantly search for sufficient food, on top of the trauma. And, in some respects, the ability of certain gorillas to overcome devastating life-reversals may simply be an example of “survival of the fittest.”

We can learn from gorillas, and anyone who has worked under stressful circumstances will likely agree on one lesson: adversity and stress are more easily borne if they are shared, and it is a lot easier to be resolute and carry on if you are part of a good team.

Apes And Their Mid-Life Crises

Scientists have completed a study that suggests that great apes, like their human cousins, have “mid-life crises.”  The study found that well-being in orangutans and chimpanzees follows a U-shaped curve also found in humans, starting high in youth, dipping low during middle age, and then climbing again in old age.

Researchers decided to test the primate mid-life crisis hypothesis when Las Vegas residents reported seeing large gangs of paunchy orangutans, sporting bad toupees and tight Hawaiian shirts, prowling the Strip and attempting to convince female bar patrons that they really liked hip-hop music.  At the same time, shopkeepers in Rwanda disclosed a spike in sales of Clairol, while observers of gorilla groups in the Congo described male apes determinedly hunting for purple bananas and male and female chimps inexplicably lounging in hillside bathtubs.

In a ground-breaking effort, researchers were able to interview middle-aged apes who had learned American sign language in an attempt to determine the cause of their vague feelings of dissatisfaction.  One fidgety female chimp, for example, complained incessantly of feeling bloated and repeatedly adjusted the thermostat in the room during the interview process.

A Silverback with poorly dyed back fur explained that, after years of rooting for grubs and berries and grooming other members of his gorilla community, he was seeing no end in sight.  He had grown tired of constantly having to establish his dominance over younger apes, he added, was bored with his daily routine, and had begun to wonder whether there was anything else to his life. The revealing interview was cut short when another researcher mistakenly brought a young female gorilla into the room, causing the Silverback to suck in his gut, beat his chest, and lose interest in further communications.