A good friend will make you laugh, defend you in an argument, cheer you on when you’re doing well and cheer you up when you’re feeling sad. Best buds can be good for your health, too. Maintaining close relationships means less stress and a longer life.
And you don’t even have to be human.
Just as with people, animals of other sorts can benefit from having a BFF. New studies show that animals with someone they can count on — to get them out of a scrape, share food or deliver a kind gesture — are more likely to reproduce and are better at fighting disease.
Such findings suggest that the need for a trusted, dependable companion goes way back in time. If so, friendship may confer evolutionary advantages.
“It’s beginning to look like a strong, evolutionarily ancient phenomenon that’s shared by many social species,” says Dorothy Cheney, a biologist at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia who has studied primate relationships for four decades.
Many of the behaviors that hint at animal friendships have been observed in the field. Studies of monkeys, horses and chimpanzees reveal that individuals are selective about whom they spend time with or feed near. Some male chimpanzees are more likely to hang out together, groom each other, share meat and accompany one another on hunts or border patrols. Female baboons will groom some peers more than others, and are more likely to come to the aid of someone who recently groomed them.
Further studies find that female baboons closely bonded to a few other females have more surviving offspring and often live longer. Similar results have been found in elephants, dolphins and rodents, as well as in horses and chimps.
With these friendly findings in mind, researchers are working to tie together animals’ behavior and physiological responses over time in hopes of better understanding the benefits of having a buddy. Recent work shows, for example, that a social-bonding hormone makes monkeys more generous with others. Other studies are turning to genes to try to understand why some animals win out when it comes to popularity.