Assessing the psychological health of captive and wild apes: a response to Ferdowsian et al. (2011)

J Comp Psychol. 2013 Aug;127(3):329-36. doi: 10.1037/a0029144. Epub 2012 Aug 13.


As many studies of cognition and behavior involve captive animals, assessing any psychological impact of captive conditions is an important goal for comparative researchers. Ferdowsian and colleagues (2011) sought to address whether captive chimpanzees show elevated signs of psychopathology relative to wild apes. They modified a checklist of diagnostic criteria for major depression and posttraumatic stress disorder in humans, and applied these criteria to various captive and wild chimpanzee populations. We argue that measures derived from human diagnostic criteria are not a powerful tool for assessing the psychological health of nonverbal animals. In addition, we highlight certain methodological drawbacks of the specific approach used by Ferdowsian and colleagues (2011). We propose that research should (1) focus on objective behavioral criteria that account for species-typical behaviors and can be reliably identified across populations; (2) account for population differences in rearing history when comparing how current environment impacts psychological health in animals; and (3) focus on how changes in current human practices can improve the well-being of both captive and wild animals.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Comment

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Anxiety / physiopathology*
  • Female
  • Male
  • Mood Disorders / physiopathology*
  • Pan troglodytes*