Animal behaviour: Grape expectations
March 28, 2009 7:10 AM   Subscribe

Revealing how we are just a bunch of monkeys... (via)

Franz de Waals and Sarah Brosnan
...trained brown capuchin monkeys to give them pebbles in exchange for cucumbers. Almost overnight, a capuchin economy developed, with hungry monkeys harvesting small stones. But the marketplace was disrupted when the scientists got mischievous: instead of giving every monkey a cucumber in exchange for pebbles, they started giving some monkeys a tasty grape instead. (Monkeys prefer grapes to cucumbers.) After witnessing this injustice, the monkeys earning cucumbers went on strike. Some started throwing their cucumbers at the scientists; the vast majority just stopped collecting pebbles. The capuchin economy ground to a halt. The monkeys were willing to forfeit cheap food simply to register their anger at the arbitrary pay scale.
in other words, it could be up to our kids to replenish our trust networks...

posted by kliuless (15 comments total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
I resent that, and I'll stop commenting right now!

*throws favorite at kliuless*
posted by DreamerFi at 7:31 AM on March 28, 2009 [1 favorite]

Hey! Why'd DreamerFi get a favorite?
posted by orme at 8:38 AM on March 28, 2009 [1 favorite]

Franz De Waals was interviewed this morning on the Kim Hill Show. Fascinating stuff.
posted by dydecker at 8:46 AM on March 28, 2009

Revealing how we are just a bunch of monkeys...

Quick, somebody throw those grape-class monkey's some GOP literature and Ayn Rand and Orson Scott Card novels.
posted by Skygazer at 9:38 AM on March 28, 2009 [1 favorite]

I'll bet the monkeys who sunk their pebbles into grape futures were PISSED. Much better to have been diversified over cucumbers & grapes, while preserving liquidity with a hidden pile of pebbles, just in case.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 10:28 AM on March 28, 2009 [5 favorites]

in later experiments with the same group of monkeys, it was found that, even more than cucumbers and grapes, what they really wanted with their pebbles was to exchange them for the privilege of viewing pictures of higher-ranking monkeys in their tribe. srsly.
posted by sexyrobot at 11:00 AM on March 28, 2009

Much better to have been diversified over cucumbers & grapes, while preserving liquidity with a hidden pile of pebbles, just in case.

Or hell, just issue grape and cucumber "instruments" that can be used to over-leverage the supply, and let the monkeys think they're eating grapes when they're eating pebbles.

*Throws grape at BitterOldPunk*
posted by Skygazer at 11:01 AM on March 28, 2009 [3 favorites]

Those scientists should have checked if those grapes were sour.

Subroutine BAD_JOKE returns successfully.
posted by JHarris at 11:27 AM on March 28, 2009

Ook! Good post, kliuless.
posted by homunculus at 11:33 AM on March 28, 2009

From the first link: "[P]eople are willing to tolerate inequality when they think it's deserved. This is why people weren't outraged when Wall Street handed out obscene bonuses last year - they assumed the executives deserved the payout."

Eh, pardon? By last year, maybe you mean 2008? Maybe MeFi is a different crowd, but posts about bonuses have all been met with annoyance and anger.

Second link: "[A] majority of respondents believed that the government must regulate financial markets."

Because people want regulations when things go awry, but think of government as limiting earning potential in the good times. I think these polls need to be considered in the historic setting, possibly placed next to older polls of this sort.
posted by filthy light thief at 11:49 AM on March 28, 2009

For anyone in Auckland NZ, Frans De Waal is this years Robb lecturer. He gave two talks last week, the first had a decent chunk about the AIG stuff. There is one more talk this Tuesday.
posted by scodger at 12:56 PM on March 28, 2009

The experiment took a bad turn when the monkeys, irate at the grape-economy gap, took to gathering very large stones. The researchers were never heard from again.

*hides stash of pebbles under mattress*
posted by darkstar at 5:36 PM on March 28, 2009 [1 favorite]

this is not a good post, kliuless, it's fucking wonderful!
posted by kitchenrat at 8:54 PM on March 28, 2009

"Classical economic theory makes two predictions about the outcome of the ultimatum game: the offers will always be unfair, and the unfair offers will always be accepted. Since both players are rational, they understand that a small amount of money is still better than no money at all. Reason and greed should trump ethical notions of fairness.

But that isn't what happens. Experiment after experiment has demonstrated that most proposers offer about $4, which is rather fair and utterly irrational. Why do proposers engage in such generosity?

Well interestingly enough, it turns out that this is not universally true: proposers don't always offer about $4.

Anthropologist Joe Henrich tested the Machiguenga aboriginals of the Peruvian Amazon. And found that:

"The robust pattern of Ultimatum behavior has led many economists to develop models which posit that humans possess either an innate taste for costly punishment, an innate sense of fairness or some combination of both....However, my data indicate that the Machiguenga behave very differently than subjects drawn from industrialized populations, and therefore, that notions about what’s fair and/or what deserves punishment
are culturally variable—meaning that people behave differently as a consequence of having grown up in different places."

This puts the physiology of fairness into a whole different light ....
posted by storybored at 8:15 AM on March 29, 2009

Dance, monkeys, dance.
posted by leapfrog at 10:15 AM on March 30, 2009

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