Tuesday, February 21, 2012

The Study of Monkeys and Money

The study of money and people's reactions to economic situations has been studied for ages, be it analyzing market statistics, trying out deals and incentives in stores, or closed lab environments, but who would have thought to see if other animals have the same reactions to money as humans? It turns out that researchers at the Yale-New Haven Hospital have trained a set of Capuchin monkeys to use money to buy things for themselves from the researchers in the lab.

The monkeys reacted similarly to humans in many situations, such as taking a gamble that seemed like a potential gain over a gamble that seemed like a potential loss even though both had the same probability to them. This shows that psychology does play a large role in bargaining, whether the terms are favorable or not. The monkeys also understood give and take in some situations, trading one food for another, and that if the price of one food dropped that they should buy more of it rather than waste money on more expensive options.

One of the main differences was that the monkeys seemed incapable of saving money, focusing more on instant gratification rather than long-term potential profits. They also stole fairly often from the researchers and from one another. This could give some insight into monkey behavior as well as how humans may react on a base level to situations. Maybe the urges that the monkeys act on are the urges that we all have to suppress because society doesn't allow us to act on them. There is definitely more research to be done in this area and this is a unique and interesting way of pushing it forward.


Posted by Mike Selden (C)


  1. It is incredible how alike humans and monkeys truly are. When it comes to the similarities between instinct and need, it's no surprise that monkeys would act similar to humans when dealing with money. Although many humans are able to manage their money well, there is still the urge to indulge and spend money to gratify one's self. Could this be a modern example of primal instinct? It seems to look like it with these experiments.

    - Jeff Keating

    1. I think that may be what they're attempting to get at with this study although I'm not sure of the scientific validity of it. Is it interesting and cool? Yes. Can you actually base new information on the findings? Probably not. Very interesting research though.

      -Mike Selden

  2. Great blog. It would be interesting to see this experiment done with different primate species. Would the primates closest genetically to humans (chimpanzees, bonobos) act more like humans than other primates?

    It makes sense that monkeys would go for instant gratification. Its not like they have naturally have banks or anyway to preserve food so there is no incentive to save.

    Posted by Joseph Frimpong

  3. fascinating article. This isn't surprising since monkey's share most of the genes we have. As you said, I believe that we humans do not steal and we save money mostly because of what society expects of us and the rules we set for ourselves. I think it's because we are more intelligent that monkeys in certain areas, that allows us to set laws and rules to prevent negative things from happening and encouraging positives.

    -Hermann Kam

  4. This is a pretty cool article. I have often wondered what the world would be like if the monetary system was different or nonexistent and it is very hard to picture. It amazes me that these monkeys actually could grasp some of the major concepts of money. I never would've thought that monkeys would be able to grasp that sort of concept. I wonder if any other types of monkeys, besides those studied, would also be able to deal with money and trading etc.?

    Posted by Nicco Ciccolini

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  6. You addressed society's expectations and rules as a primary difference between monkeys and humans. I wonder if the primates can be 'taught' to save money - perhaps by reinforcing the action from birth or providing examples for them to copy and learn from.

    Posted by James Fargnoli

  7. No wonder it is hard to save and so easy to spend - our monkey brains are to blame! I love this idea of a battle between our primal instincts and our newly formed intelligence. You see it all the time your life. For instance - you take a girl out on a date so that you may be reproductively successful and pass on your genetic material some day. Do you stop and think - 'gee, if I buy dinner tonight I can't pay rent or feed myself tomorrow'? No, of course not. You buy dinner in hopes of securing a mate. Obviously, instinct has clouded your judgement. I wonder if there is any research that shows my suspicion that being politically motivated is a basal instinct as well.

    Posted by William Mohn

  8. Since we are so genetically similar to monkeys, is it possible we are genetically inclined to steal and revel in instant gratification? I believe so after I read this article. Humans, enjoy the rush of primal instincts that are innate, when we receive gratification. It's why humans have a hard time saving money like monkeys. But the biggest difference I believe we can save though, is the knowledge and processing power to understand we can have more riches later, and that the gratification from that will be just if not more, good.

    Posted by Andy Zou