Keith Chen studies capuchins.
June 5, 2005 5:07 PM   Subscribe

Monkey Business Something else happened during that chaotic scene, something that convinced Chen of the monkeys' true grasp of money. Perhaps the most distinguishing characteristic of money, after all, is its fungibility, the fact that it can be used to buy not just food but anything. During the chaos in the monkey cage, Chen saw something out of the corner of his eye that he would later try to play down but in his heart of hearts he knew to be true. What he witnessed was probably the first observed exchange of money for sex in the history of monkeykind. (Further proof that the monkeys truly understood money: the monkey who was paid for sex immediately traded the token in for a grape.)
posted by raaka (32 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
This makes me weep for mankind. Only on the inside. Outside, I'm laughing at monkey prostitution.
posted by Saydur at 5:26 PM on June 5, 2005

Clearly, this proves that they understand money.

But, once they start trading grapes for sex, it will prove that they clearly understand relationships.
posted by NotMyselfRightNow at 5:30 PM on June 5, 2005

That monkey was probably getting tired of spanking his own monkey.
posted by alteredcarbon at 5:31 PM on June 5, 2005

So if we teach monkeys, at no small effort, to understand and use money, then... wait for it... they end up behaving like human beings with money! From what this article presents, it seems to me that the experimenters are rigging the game.

Without coming off like a monkey fetishist, I'd like to know more about the cash-for-sex encounter, since the article is a bit vague. What precisely did Chen witness? Is it a replicable phenomenon? Most importantly, now that we've got monkeys understanding money, can we teach them to do simple jobs around the home, using simple commands like "Do" and "Buy"?

There's a cautionary tale in there somewhere.
posted by palinode at 5:48 PM on June 5, 2005

I hope their Monkey God damns that monkey harlot to Monkey Hell.

Confidental to the MoFi crowd: I have tokens, baby.
posted by DaShiv at 5:50 PM on June 5, 2005

Maybe I'm just an unsophisticated monkeyman, but I'm confused about the gambling/loss-avoidance experiment. While the ultimate results are the same-- 50% chance of having one grape, 50% chance of having two grapes-- the framing of the gambles makes it seem very different. In one, you have the chance of ending up with more than you started with, and in the other, you could end up with less. I'd be much more likely to take the first bet than the second, so would the monkeys, and so would the vast majority of other people. Am I to understand that an economist wouldn't? Perhaps I need to find some economists to gamble with.
posted by Faint of Butt at 5:50 PM on June 5, 2005

They'd throw their feces at the wall

Remarkable. Monkeys understand product advertising.
posted by stbalbach at 5:52 PM on June 5, 2005

Of course, the most remarkable thing coming out of this is the fact that it's apparently the first time the "whore" tag has been used. Personally, I'm stunned!
posted by NotMyselfRightNow at 6:19 PM on June 5, 2005

I don't quite see what the problem is.
posted by nightchrome at 6:19 PM on June 5, 2005

Step 1: Acquire large amounts of grapes, monkeys and typewriters
Step 2: ???
Step 3: Profit!
posted by fatbobsmith at 6:21 PM on June 5, 2005

Just wait till they figure out percentage rates of lending, or what the term "second mortgage" means.
posted by Balisong at 6:34 PM on June 5, 2005

Faint of Butt:

Experiment 1: start with 1 token, 50% chance of getting one more.

Experiment 2: start with 2 tokens, 50% chance of losing one.

The result to you is precisely the same in both cases -- you have a 50% chance of getting 1 token and a 50% chance of getting 2. Were you a completely rational economic unit, you wouldn't prefer either one of these two experiments.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 6:59 PM on June 5, 2005

Oops, submitted too soon. Perhaps I shouldn't have submitted at all, but...

Since you for some reason consider experiment 1 significantly more desirable than 2, then you'd take experiment 1 even where you had, say, 49% chance of gaining or losing a token -- where in fact experiment 2 outpays experiment 1 by 2 cents on the dollar.

Or, if there's no way you'd take 1 if I changed the experiment in that fashion, even if I were offering a 49.99... chance, then when it comes down to it you really don't prefer experiment 1 at all.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 7:12 PM on June 5, 2005

Yes, the probability distribution of your wealth after each game is the same. But the second one costs twice as much to play!

After playing the first, I have on average 50% more money than I started with. After playing the second, I have 25% less. How are they equivalent? Is the NYT perhaps mis-describing the experiment?
posted by polyglot at 7:51 PM on June 5, 2005

Control group, please. You mean monkeys normally ask nicely for sex, establish a committed relationship, or get dinner and a ride in the Porsche? More likely: monkey is enjoying something better than cucumber, ignores token, female picks it up...

“Chen…was a de facto Marxist before being seduced, quite accidentally, by economics.”
As opposed to the traditional stalking & copulation by economics with token?
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 7:54 PM on June 5, 2005

I hope their Monkey God damns that monkey harlot to Monkey Hell.

It's been a couple of hours since you posted this, DaShiv, and I'm still laughing.

Also, this seems as good a time as any to post the current monkey-related Shouts & Murmurs from The New Yorker.
posted by scody at 7:56 PM on June 5, 2005

I'm still with polyglot here. Again, maybe I misunderstood the experiment, or maybe the Times described it poorly, but my understanding goes as follows:

Situation 1: I have one token. Someone offers me a fifty-percent chance to keep that one token versus a fifty-percent chance to get a second one. I would choose to take that bet without a moment's hesitation.

Situation 2: I have two tokens. Someone offers me a fifty-percent chance to keep both of them versus a fifty-percent chance to lose one of them. I wouldn't choose to take that bet in a million years.

I think I'm making the obviously rational decision in both situations to maximize my earnings. Am I somehow wrong?
posted by Faint of Butt at 8:25 PM on June 5, 2005

Metafilter: It's pretty much focused on food and sex

posted by thedevildancedlightly at 8:42 PM on June 5, 2005

When you're a monkey in an experimenter's cage, you must take both bets. They only want to know which one you feel better about.
If you must take the bets, you have an equal chance of ending up with one or two grapes -- however, if you have the awareness that you are being forced into a bet it is not in your interest to take (#2), shouldn't you be a little pissed?
posted by kingfisher, his musclebound cat at 8:46 PM on June 5, 2005

Faint of Butt: Not exactly. I am the experimentor. have two grapes.

Situation 1: You pay me 1 coin. I will give you one grape, with the possibility of another one. So 50% of the time you get 1 grape, and 50% of the time you get two.

Situation 2: You pay me 1 coin. I will hand you 2 grapes, then flip a coin to determine whether or not I take one away. See, it's exactly the same, except you get to hold a grape in your hand. You're not really losing the grape - it just seems like you are.
posted by muddgirl at 9:26 PM on June 5, 2005

monkey is enjoying something better than cucumber, ignores token, female picks it up...
Hmmm, that gives me an idea ...
posted by dg at 9:32 PM on June 5, 2005

Faint of Butt, polyglot:

As you suspected, interpretation of the experiment is off.

Option 2 is NOT "you get two tokens, then you get to choose whether to play the game." Rather, you receive 2 tokens, then you MUST gamble them. The problem is not *whether* you would choose to take a gamble in situation 1 versus situation 2 (that's an easy decision), it's which kind of gamble you prefer.
posted by mowglisambo at 9:34 PM on June 5, 2005

so marxists aren't economists? what? isn't that the whole idea?
posted by eustatic at 9:40 PM on June 5, 2005

Chen's paper (pdf)
posted by gubo at 10:15 PM on June 5, 2005

Great article. I'm curious about the live monkey cam. It's "inactive on weekends, lunchtime, and evenings" so I'm hoping tomorrow sometime I can see it (found on the freakonomics page, enter "guest" for both login and password).
posted by artifarce at 10:35 PM on June 5, 2005

I welcome our new monkey overlords....oh, wait nevermind.
(meet the new boss, same as the old boss...etc)
posted by Smedleyman at 8:15 AM on June 6, 2005

Seeing pictures of the monkeys rather humanizes (for lack of a better word) them.
posted by of strange foe at 2:50 PM on June 6, 2005

I don't have anything to say, but feel freakishly compelled to post anyway. Now let me pay off my little friend ...
posted by me & my monkey at 2:50 PM on June 6, 2005

fatbobsmith and odinsdream tie for first.
posted by es_de_bah at 5:33 PM on June 6, 2005

I'd have sex for a grape....

...what? What's the big deal? I like grapes.
posted by Smedleyman at 4:25 PM on June 7, 2005

Who's to say the monkey harlot would not have had sex with the male anyway? Quite possibly the token received was just icing on her cake. (um, I'd reword that if I cared)
posted by arjuna at 8:29 PM on June 7, 2005

Inevitable Cat and Girl connection.

Plus, I understand that chimps, and probably other primates, already trade sex for food without our prompting.
posted by RobotHero at 9:39 PM on June 7, 2005

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