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Prof. Brent’s project aims to enhance our understanding of friendship structures by studying multiple species of macaque monkeys.

Research to reveal the evolutionary reasons why we get by with a little help from our friends

The quest to discover why friendship plays such a pivotal role in social and mental well-being has been given a significant boost, it has been announced.

Professor Lauren Brent, an expert in animal behaviour from the University of Exeter has been awarded substantial funding to help uncover the evolutionary origins of friendship and social bonds.

Prof Brent has received a €2 million grant to conduct ground-breaking new research to investigate not only social bonds are so important to the health and longevity of so many species, but also why evolution allows social isolation to persist despite its detrimental impact on individuals.

The multi-million pound funding was awarded by the European Research Council (ERC) under its Consolidator Grants scheme.

Prof Brent, an Associate Professor in Animal Behaviour at the University of Exeter said: “Friendship may be one of the most important strategies humans have for surviving in large groups.

“We know that friendship is crucial for human health and well-being - for example, people who are socially isolated have a greater risk of heart disease than heavy smokers or drinkers.

“But to fully understand why we have such a fundamental need for friends, as well as the consequences of not having those relationships, we need to try and determine the origins of friendship itself.  Unravelling friendship from an evolutionary perspective is a crucial step component of understanding what it means to be human.”

Prof. Brent’s project, called FriendOrigins: The Evolutionary Origins of Friendship - A Cross-Species Comparison and Experimental Approach, aims to enhance our understanding of friendship structures by studying multiple species of macaque monkeys.

Prof. Brent added: “By uncovering the factors that regulate and drive friendly relationships in other primates, we can potentially reveal the origins of human friendship and gain new appreciation of what we do, or don’t, have in common with some of our closest living relatives”

Prof. Brent’s’ research is one of 318 grants awarded to researchers across Europe – totalling €635 million - in the most recent announcement.

The awards are given to outstanding researchers, with between seven and 12 years of experience after completing their PhD, and a scientific track record showing ‘great promise’.

This project has received funding from the European Research Council (ERC) under the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme (grant agreement No 864461)

Date: 21 July 2020

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