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Female monkeys prioritise friends and ‘actively reduce’ social circle as they age, study finds

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Female rhesus monkeys prioritise family and friends as they become old and “actively reduce” their social networks, based on a recent study.

The findings, published within the journal PNAS, also suggest that the older females aren’t shunned of their later lives, but that their social circle changes are driven by themselves.

Having fewer friends in old age is seen as harmful, including amongst humans, as a result of concerns about social isolation and loneliness within the elderly.

But recent studies have suggested that this narrowing of social networks in humans could be proactive and supply advantages in some ways.

Researchers from the University of Exeter within the UK have found that macaques also grow to be increasingly selective, and concentrate on relatives and long-standing friendships in later life.

“This pattern of narrowing social networks with age is common in humans. Our study offers probably the most conclusive evidence up to now that social selectivity will not be unique to humans, and subsequently might need deeper evolutionary underpinnings,” study co-author Lauren Brent said in an announcement.

Within the research, scientists studied eight years of information on greater than 200 macaques, assessing how the social lives of every individual modified.

They found clear evidence of social selectivity by females while ruling out other explanations corresponding to the death of partners.

“There are various possible the explanation why macaques grow to be more socially selective with age,” Erin Siracusa, one other creator of the study said.

“For instance, the advantages of social interactions might change with time. Young macaques might profit from a large social group that might help them explore and find potential mates,” Dr Siracusa explained.

While the females within the study narrowed their network as they aged, scientists also found that they remained actively engaged of their social world.

“Aging females remained actively engaged of their social world and spent similar amounts of time grooming, being grooming and sitting near other females.spent similar amounts of time grooming, being grooming and sitting near other females,” Dr Siracusa explained.

“So, social declines weren’t brought on by lack of interest or ability to have interaction,” she added.

For older macaques, researchers suspect it might be easier and safer to follow family and existing friends for quite a lot of reasons, including to minimise conflict and to scale back disease transmission as their immune systems decline with age.

“Latest relationships also require more mental effort, so while we see no decline in time spent socialising, older macaques might save mental energy by shrinking their network,” Dr Siracusa said.

“Taken together, our results provide rare empirical evidence for social selectivity in nonhumans, suggesting that patterns of accelerating selectivity with age could also be deeply rooted in primate evolution,” scientists wrote within the study.

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