Research and Funding

Division of Behavioral and Social Research

Early life adversity predicts longevity in baboons, serving as a human model for aging

New findings from a study of wild female baboons provide evidence of a link between early life events and longevity. Females exposed early in life to more sources of social and environmental adversity, defined as follows: early maternal loss, the presence of a close-in-age competing younger sibling, large group size at birth, drought in their first year of life, low maternal dominance rank, low maternal social connectedness, lived significantly shorter lives than those who experienced fewer or no adverse conditions. Because baboons rarely live long past their reproductive years, these differences in survival were strongly predictive of differences in lifetime reproductive success. Early life adversity was also correlated with social isolation from other adult female baboons in adulthood, though not from adult males. These results suggest that it is likely that social relationships play an important role in mediating connections between early life adversity and health outcomes in older age.

Although effects of cumulative exposure to multiple environmental insults at a young age have been previously examined in studies of humans, this is the first prospective study to test for a correlation between cumulative early life adversity and lifespan in any species. They also offer a window into potential social factors in later life that compound these effects. Together, these findings underscore the potential for wild baboons to serve as a valuable model of human aging. 

Reference: Tung, J., Archie, E.A., Altmann, J., and Alberts, S.C. Cumulative early life adversity predicts longevity in wild baboons. Nature Communications. doi: 10.1038/ncomms11181. Published online Apr. 19, 2016.

Photo Credit: Susan Alberts