Stressed Out Baboons (Stanford Research Study)

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August 16, 2014 by JImbo

Baboon Study Suggests New Information on Stress in Humans

I’m more familiar with the similar studies done on rats at Stanford. Either way, the implications for humans are likewise interesting. The basic idea is that people are born as predisposed to be Type A or Type B personalities.

Nothing new there, I know. However, the extent to which this controls so many facets of your life is VERY important. The fact that overstressing yourself can be MUCH WORSE THAN SMOKING is important.

Also, the coping mechanisms employed are similarly very interesting to me. In rats first (and now repeated in Baboons… and also hinted at in studies on human subjects), the type of person you are determines how you react to stress.

This is sometimes conscious, sometimes unconscious. People don’t always know they are reacting to stress. They get so used to it that they consider it a “normal level” and like air temperature in a certain range… you forget it’s even there.

Your body doesn’t, however. Neither does your subconscious. They keep acting, and forcing you in turn to react.


Studies are showing that some people are born essentially “optimists” and others “pessimists.” They don’t just get “used to” stress, they react differently to it.

There are basic responses when dealing with stress that people tend to use to cope. In rats stressed animals tend to:

-Get violent with other rats

-Chew/gnaw things (bark or nails)

-Look for predictability

-Look for the illusion of control


Those rats that are “pessimists” or most susceptible to stress use these coping methods a lot. The “optimists” who just aren’t all that stressed tend not to need to do them. So, it’s not just a particular situation that is stressful. Maybe your friend isn’t stressed about one issue. Maybe she just bites her nails ALL THE TIME because she’s stressed out ALL THE TIME… even when she doesn’t know it!

If we know that some people are always stressed and act in certain ways to that stress, then we can predict that some people will ALWAYS be looking to act in these responsive ways. There will always be people who are looking to get violent for example, or to chew their nails. There will be people constantly trying to get “control” (or the ILLUSION of control anyway) in a situation. This could be a controlling role or position, controlling a conversation, or even simply control over how they perceive things in their mind.

Someone with OCD for example is trying to gain control through things even unrelated to the actual stressor or real life situation. They know logically that arranging everything in perfect rows won’t make their problems go away, but it DOES make them FEEL better, so the illusion isn’t totally an illusion. It does have an effect… just on THEM only and not the environment.

Superstition works the same way. If you FEEL lucky then there is an effect. It’s not “luck” as a force per se, but more from a positive attitude and feeling better.

I’m wondering how far this actually extends in human nature. Does it control MOST things in your life? Can we predict how people will vote or what political party they’ll join by seeing how they react to stress?

Maybe we can. I don’t have solid data on this, but think about it. It shouldn’t be hard to get some.

If there are those people out there constantly stressed and afraid, it makes sense that they will constantly be seeking some sense of control (even false control.) They will be the ones seeking more laws and bigger government. They constantly see the BAD things in life and need to “protect everyone.” This isn’t just to protect OTHER people. It in fact makes THEM feel better because it will (in their mind) bring predictability and an illusion of control to our chaotic world. Call them “Progressives” or “Statists” if you will.

On the other hand, the people that are NOT stressed much by life must be the opposite. Few true optimists must truly be scared of much. Therefore, they are willing to trust other people and look on the bright side of things. They believe in individual merit and a “can do” spirit. They’re the small government, Libertarian types.

They don’t NEED the sense of order and control that the Statist/Progressive/Pessimist types do. They can physically function better with less of the coping mechanisms in place. In fact, it causes more stress to them to be controlled than to simply keep the world naturally chaotic.

This would then explain why violence erupts between the two. The Statists get violent when they don’t feel safe. They then try to impose with violence that predictability and sense of order on the Individualists, who then get stressed by that violence. They then in turn respond with violence.

This does also explain why Libertarians can live next to Statists, but not the other way around. The Pessimists NEED that control. Simply having individual, chaotic elements in the society is too much risk for them. It SCARES them.

Take gun control for example. The very IDEA of someone with a gun means that it’s someone that the Statist does not control. To the Pessimist, that person is GOING TO SHOOT SOMEONE. Their fear tells them that it’s a foregone conclusion. The ONLY solution of course is total control.

In seeking predictability and safety, the Statist does not comprehend that the Individualist/Optimist doesn’t share their fear. They assume that it must be nefarious intent and greed or other villainous motivations that drive this other person. They see things through their own prism.

Similarly, the Optimists simply don’t understand why the Pessimists are scared all the time. What is to be so scared about anyway? They see it as a CHOICE to be scared, and not an innate condition or worldview.

I dunno if I’m right or wrong here. It seems the data is supporting this more and more. We are hard wired differently.

I don’t have an answer to be honest. The Pessimists CAN’T stop their push for more control in their desire for safety and physically FEELING BETTER.

The Optimists simply aren’t as scared as the Pessimists so can’t truly understand why they want to… in their eyes… OPPRESS them so much with controlling structures and laws that seem unnecessary and/or dangerous.

How far are people on each end of the scale? Is there a common ground? As I said, the “live and let live” people are fully willing to let the “central control” folks live in their own structures, but that simply isn’t enough for the Statists. They are literally threatened by FREEDOM.

Does this extend to even our choice of careers or lifestyle choices? Are people who are harder to stress out more successful in stressful occupations? Yes and no I guess. You’d think so, but if the Pessimists are good at becoming controllers in power, then it makes sense that they TOO would gravitate towards stressful situations. After all, if being in power makes them FEEL GOOD, then they would (like a drug) be inclined to seek more stress and more leadership roles to accrue more of that power wouldn’t they?

The lead baboons tend to be Type As and highly stressed. It wouldn’t make sense for that correlation to happen unless they got something out of being in control with all that added stress. Are they intuitively less stressed than they WOULD BE if they weren’t in charge? Do the Type B baboons simply have no desire to introduce more stress in their life and don’t fight them for leadership very often? How closely does that parallel people?

Just a thought. Like I said, I have no real data behind this. Just a hunch. I do find it fascinating research work however.

There’s so much to learn. So many opportunities to explore our own humanity! Discovering how truly complex and intuitive our wealth of interpersonal and internal motivations really are!




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