Photo by Susan C. Alberts

Early Life Adversity and Adult Social Relationships Have Independent Effects on Survival in a Wild Primate


Adverse conditions in early life can have negative consequences for adult health and survival in humans and other animals. What variables mediate the relationship between early adversity and adult survival? Adult social environments represent one candidate: Early life adversity is linked to social adversity in adulthood, and social adversity in adulthood predicts survival outcomes. However, no study has prospectively linked early life adversity, adult social behavior, and adult survival to measure the extent to which adult social behavior mediates this relationship. We do so in a wild baboon population in Amboseli, Kenya. We find weak mediation and largely independent effects of early adversity and adult sociality on survival. Furthermore, strong social bonds and high social status in adulthood can buffer some negative effects of early adversity. These results support the idea that affiliative social behavior is subject to natural selection through its positive relationship with survival, and they highlight possible targets for intervention to improve human health and well-being.

Science Advances