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TEACHING MONKEYS TO SHOP

Cindy Maddera

I’m not sure if this really qualifies as a Friday Science entry, but I found it on SEED. I think it falls in to the social science category. A group of researchers at Yale have discovered that humans aren’t the only ones to exhibit irrational decision making. The political economy study was designed using our evolutionary cousins, Capuchin monkeys. Yes, I said political economy study. The researchers were studying the origins of irrational decision making. For instance every once in awhile a person who invests in stock rather than bonds tends to do better than someone who invested only in bonds. It’s the riskier decision that does better than the slow and steady mentality, but researchers wanted to know why people are most likely to choose the slow and steady system.

The researchers taught the monkeys how to use money to purchase food. The monkeys were allowed to choose from two “vendorsâ€?. One vendor showed the monkeys two apples slices, but when the monkey paid, the seller would only give the monkey one slice half of the time. The other vendor only displayed one apple slice, but when the monkey paid, this seller would provide the monkey with an extra or bonus slice half of the time. The monkeys regularly chose to buy from the second vendor.

The study showed that the monkeys weigh loss almost exactly as much as we do. We prefer gains over losses. How often do we flock to some store because they’re offering some sort of “Bonus Buyâ€?? Just another example of how we’re really no different from monkeys. How humbling.