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Monkeys Pay For Sex

September 5, 2012, 02:36:38
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Yale University economist Keith Chen ran an experiment with a cage full of monkeys to see if he could teach them how to use money. His result was so amazing that the monkeys learned about crime, staged a bank robbery, and paid a female for sex who used her money to buy sweets...

 

There are many cases of researchers training animals to perform tasks like drawing, playing with computers, or even acting in films. And there are many examples in nature of animals that use tools. But no one has yet seen animals use any form of money to get what they want. The use of money must be learned because money is a concept. It has no value in itself. You can't eat it or mate with it, and money won't keep you warm or stop a predator from eating you. It is the value that others place on money that creates its worth.

 

Over 200 years ago, Adam Smith, the Scottish pioneer of economics wrote,"Nobody ever saw a dog make a fair and deliberate exchange of one bone for another with another dog. Nobody ever saw one animal by its gestures and natural cries signify to another, this is mine, that is yours; I am willing to give this for that."

 

Keith Chen knew of so many other discoveries in other fields of science which have shown us that animals can learn and do far more than we ever thought. He took Adam Smith's idea as a challenge and decided to find out if animals could be taught to use money.

 

To do this, Chen, together with psychologist Laurie Santos, gathered a group of 7 Capuchin monkeys (4 females and 3 males) in a test-cage environment at Yale-New Haven Hospital. The Capuchin is a small, fuzzy, brown, South American monkey with a small brain. It usually spends all its time eating and mating. Chen used small coins with holes in the center for currency. It took some time and patients to teach the monkeys that the coins had value. For a long time, they just threw the coins back out of the cage because they could not eat them. But after a long process of training, the monkeys finally learned that they could enter a small box in the corner of the cage, pick up one of 12 coins from a tray, hand the coin to a researcher, and he would get a piece of food as a reward. Once all 7 monkeys learned this, many weeks went by where every day each would enter the special box and use a coin to buy their food.

 

The experiment seemed to have reached its limit, when one day one of the male monkeys went into the small box and, instead of exchanging a coin for food, took all the coins and ran out of the box like a bank robber throwing some on the floor of the cage. He then went over to a female monkey, began grooming her and gave her a coin. The female monkey took the coin and then allowed the male to mount and mate with her. This was probably the first instance of animal prostitution ever recorded. Afterwards, the female monkey brought her coin into the box and used it to buy a piece of candy from the researcher. Meanwhile, chaos broke out in the big cage with all the monkeys scrambling for the remaining coins with some hoarding what they could find.

 

Keith Chen's experiment was halted by the hospital animal authorities. They were afraid that his experiments would forever damage the social structure of the Capuchin monkeys. But Keith did get an answer to his question. It seems that even animals can learn to be capitalists.

For further reading plaese see Super Freakonomics by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner

©2012:Tim Newlin & timtim.com

 

 

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