Social support reduces stress hormone levels in wild chimpanzees across stressful events and everyday affiliations
Stress is a major cause of poor health and mortality in humans and other social mammals. Close social bonds buffer stress, however much of the underlying physiological mechanism remains unknown. Here, we test two key hypotheses: bond partner effects occur only during stress (social buffering) or generally throughout daily life (main effects). We assess urinary glucocorticoids (uGC) in wild chimpanzees, with or without their bond partners, after a natural stressor, resting or everyday affiliation. Chimpanzees in the presence of, or interacting with, bond partners rather than others have lowered uGC levels across all three contexts. These results support the main effects hypothesis and indicate that hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenocortical (HPA) axis regulation is mediated by daily engagement with bond partners both within and out of stressful contexts. Regular social support with bond partners could lead to better health through daily ‘micro-management’ of the HPA axis, a finding with potential medical implications for humans.