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.