What monkeys tell us about photography’s health benefits


A hairy man slowly walks up to a baboon in Africa, and tries to hide his blowgun. In a split second he shoots a sedative into the baboon and surely enough….he goes to sleep. Robert Sapolsky has been studying baboons for years, and weirdly enough, has implications for the effect of photography on our health.



Robert Sapolsky's discovery


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Robert is a teacher, scientist and a whole bunch of other credentials that make me feel bad I didn't pay attention in school.  He's been studying baboons for years, and he made a very nice insight: Social hierarchy has a direct impact on stress and therefore our health. It's mind over matter, if you are stressed, you will be unhealthy. Heck, I even know someone who passes out and coughs out blood, that's how stressed the poor guy is.


He sedated and studied Alpha males vs regular males and saw that the Alpha males were healthier than the regular males. Surprisingly while studying human work environments he found the same thing. Those who have more control over their work (them bosses) had reduced stress when compared to those who had no control over their work (those who are being told what to do). The heart of stress then is one of control…..the lack of control stresses us. But does that mean we are doomed to stress if we are not in the higher up? Not quite….


Multiple hierarchies


One day, Robert's main group of primates went out and ate tourist foods out of the garbage. That was a mistake because many died out of sickness. Robert was understandably outraged because years of work went to the toilet. But as it turns out WHO died was also a discovery in itself. Those who were more compassionate survived while the others perished. There were twice as many females and the guys who survived were the “good guys”.



Two males grooming each other


While in the pack, these baboons were at the bottom, when it came to relationships they weren't. Humans are part of multiple hierarchies too, we're not just workers, we are also relational beings. So while we might have one area of our lives where we have no control, we have other circles to balance it out. We might have no control over what will be assigned to us for example, but we do have a place in our familial circle and friendship circles. But we have also another circle we are a part of…..


The artistic dimension


We might not be king of the workplace, our families might not be the best but dang it, we are the king of our own world. If monkeys tell us that if we have no control over our lives, we will have deteriorating health due to stress, and that there can be other areas to influence that…..then we can have art to influence our health for the better. Just look at one of our reader's testimonial about what photography means to him, or better yet, how many interviewees in the magazine state that photography is their yin to an otherwise yang life.



We spend our lives having other people tell us what to do, from parents to bosses, when it comes to photography, well, we have our say and do whatever we want cuz it's ours and no one else's. We might not be the king of the world, but we sure are the king of our own art. And that is how photography affect our health, it gives us the freedom that we might not otherwise have in the other parts of our lives. It's the anti-stressor because it's were we can do anything we want with it.


Moreover, whereas relationships tell us that we are important to others, photography tells us we are important to ourselves. I'm not talking about stupid bloated egos of Internet photographers here, art helps us makes peace with ourselves because it's a reflection of ourselves. When we photograph, we photograph ourselves (subject matter, angle, style, triggers, etc), by enjoying our photographs we enjoy our own being, making peace with ourselves in the process. Again, I'm not talking about bloated egos and all, but something of a much more purer nature, the connection with ourselves. Producing something external (a photograph) in order to see ourselves better and give ourselves some kudos.



Thanks to Sapolsky's research, we know how stress work hand in hand with lack of control. Stress kills because it affects our health in a very negative way, and stressed people are more prone to hear attacks. We also know that while we might not have control over one area of our lives, there's other areas to over turn that. One of them is right at our disposal: Photography.


So go and photograph, it's good for your you (just don't stay to long in front of the computer). Be yourself, stay focused and keep on shooting.


About the author

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About Sapolsky

Check out his book “Why Zebra's don't get ulcers

About The Author

10 thoughts on “What monkeys tell us about photography’s health benefits”

  1. Fernando Vázquez

    Another masterpiece!
    Your words really have an impact in our own lifes.
    It is just not only Photography related.
    You are great, Olivier!
    A miilion thanks.

  2. I really love this articles Olivier, i like your search for the ‘meaning’ of photography as a self expression, beyond gear, reviews or life itself. Keep up the great work!

  3. Did they all consume the same amount of the bad food ? , I’m thinking in a hierarchical situation, the monkeys that died , died because they were able to consume a larger amount of poisonous food. The alphas always eat what they want and they are the ones who eat first. What’s left over, the rest of the monkeys share, Right?

  4. Pingback: INSPIRED EYE | The big, fat list of all things Street Photography

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