How monkeys pay in cash

by Björn Schöpe

February 12, 2015 – Actually she is not so much interested in animals but much more in people, stated Laurie Santos. The young professor of psychology is director of the Comparative Cognition Laboratory where she studies the behaviour of primates in order to get a better understanding of human behavioural patterns. Money and exchange has a central role in this research. Some of our biases apparently are not typically human but rather typical of primates.

The researchers chose to create what they call ‘monkey marketplace’ as experimental set-up. In this space capuchin monkeys learnt how to use tokens to get something like for example food. Similar to human beings the monkeys showed also what behavioural scientists know as ‘loss aversion’: we prefer not to loose something over getting something new. Why this bias came up in primates Laurie Santos cannot explain yet.
Another bias seems to be typically human, though: linking ideal and material value (pricing bias). Santos explains what that means: ‘For example, I can change the way you taste a piece of chocolate or a glass of wine by lying to you and telling you the price. If I tell you that the wine is from a $100 bottle, you think it tastes better than if [I tell you] it’s from a $10 bottle, even though it is the same wine in both cases. Also, if I tell you a pain medicine costs more, you assume you’re actually experiencing less pain.’ Until now this phenomenon has not yet been demonstrated with monkeys.

With these tests Santos does not only want to explain how people take certain decisions (for example in an economical environment). The scientist trusts that her knowledge will contribute to make us reflect our behaviour – and to improve it.

To learn more about these studies you may listen to a chat with Laurie Santos on Boingboing.

Yale Daily News has published an interview with the young researcher where she explained her work.

You can also visit the website of the Comparative Cognition Laboratory.

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