“Researchers Wondered Whether Monkeys, Like Humans, Desire An Expensive Item More”

"Monkeys could choose whether they got a tiny square of blue Jell-O or a big chunk of red Jell-O." (Image by Donar Reiskoffer.)

From Amy Dockser Marcus’ WSJ article about Yale psychologist Laurie Santos’ experiments with monkey-based economics, an excerpt about the differences between human and simian fiscal sense:

The experiments that have been done so far show that many of our economic behaviors are deeply rooted. Still, there appears to be a place where the two species part ways.

Researchers wondered whether monkeys, like humans, desire an expensive item more. For the same number of tokens, the monkeys could choose whether they got a tiny square of blue Jell-O or a big chunk of red Jell-O. Later, the monkeys were allowed to choose which kind they wanted. If the monkeys were like humans, they would have gone for the blue Jell-O, the more ‘expensive’ choice. But the monkeys gorged happily on both.

The researchers are still gathering and analyzing the data. One possibility: Human taste preferences are based on many factors, whereas the monkeys’ are not. Some might argue that human economic behavior is more advanced since it includes ‘culture and meta-awareness’ in decision-making, said Dr. Santos. There’s another, less flattering possibility too. ‘The monkeys,’ she said, ‘are more rational.’”

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Santos lectures on monkey economics at TED:

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