Monkeys Taught Game Theory, Whoreing

Monkey Business

"The capuchin has a small brain, and it's pretty much focused on food and sex," says Keith Chen, a Yale economist who, along with Laurie Santos, a psychologist, is exploiting these natural desires -- well, the desire for food at least -- to teach the capuchins to buy grapes, apples and Jell-O. "You should really think of a capuchin as a bottomless stomach of want," Chen says. "You can feed them marshmallows all day, they'll throw up and then come back for more." [...]

The only way for one monkey to get a marshmallow was for the other monkey to pull its lever. [...] Then Hauser and Chen heightened the drama. They conditioned one tamarin to always pull the lever (thus creating an altruistic stooge) and another to never pull the lever (thus creating a selfish jerk). [...]

What he witnessed was probably the first observed exchange of money for sex in the history of monkeykind. (Further proof that the monkeys truly understood money: the monkey who was paid for sex immediately traded the token in for a grape.)

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17 Responses:

  1. mackys says:

    I, for one, welcome our new strategically gifted slut-monkey overlords.

  2. kfringe says:

    That as big news last year. I think they've been teaching the monkeys to use Myspace since then.

  3. The best line in the article:
    The data generated by the capuchin monkeys, Chen says, ''make them statistically indistinguishable from most stock-market investors.''

    Tasty, tasty, context-free snark!

    • prog says:

      I wackyparsed "...the history of monkeykind" as "the history of monkeyland". Now I am vaguely disappointed.

  4. sethg_prime says:

    The monkey-prostitution paragraph you quoted is followed by:

    This is a sensitive subject. The capuchin lab at Yale has been built and maintained to make the monkeys as comfortable as possible, and especially to allow them to carry on in a natural state. The introduction of money was tricky enough; it wouldn't reflect well on anyone involved if the money turned the lab into a brothel. To this end, Chen has taken steps to ensure that future monkey sex at Yale occurs as nature intended it.

    "has taken steps"? What "steps", I wonder?

    • hallerlake says:

      Monkey marriage amendment :)

    • 7ghent says:

      Monkey abstinence pledges?

    • jwz says:

      I also hate that line about "monkey sex as nature intended it". Who's this guy to say what nature intended? Perhaps nature created humans solely so that they could invent whoreing and teach the other monkeys about it. Nature wants monkey whores!

      George Carlin, "The Planet Is Fine":

      The air and the water will recover, the earth will be renewed, and if it's true that plastic is not degradable, well, the planet will simply incorporate plastic into a new pardigm: the earth plus plastic. The earth doesn't share our prejudice towards plastic. Plastic came out of the earth. The earth probably sees plastic as just another one of its children. Could be the only reason the earth allowed us to be spawned from it in the first place. It wanted plastic for itself. Didn't know how to make it. Needed us. Could be the answer to our age-old egocentric philosophical question, "Why are we here?" Plastic...asshole.

      • That is completely awesome.

        Also, screw Nature, DEVON wants Monkey Whores!

        • baconmonkey says:

          bonobos, which are apes, not monkeys, have been observed many times engaging in prostitution. exhangig food for sex happens all the time.

          Prostitution is often described as "the world's oldest profession." It has been thought prostitution (at least in the modern sense) cannot have emerged before the emergence of money, which can only have taken place after the emergence of several trades, and it has been claimed that midwifery, or perhaps gardening or teaching, are really the world's oldest professions. However, prostitution in exchange for goods or services may have been common for many thousands of years and may date to early man. Additionally, prostitution has been noted in Bonobo chimpanzee behavior based around access to food and gifts of food, and in penguins in regard to access for suitable stones for nest building. Until the age of industrialization the world was basically agrarian, so goods and services were most often obtained by barter.

  5. waider says:

    I have the vaguest idea that this turned up in The Wisdom Of Crowds, but it's been a while since I read it. Definitely the whole monkey sex-for-cash thing is ringing bells.

    mmm, ringing bells. *salivating noises*

  6. daruku says:

    "Researchers were stunned when a male offered a female a token for a quick roll in the hay and she accepted. Afterward, the female traded her new token for a tasty grape"


  7. ""You should really think of a capuchin as a bottomless stomach of want," Chen says. "You can feed them marshmallows all day, they'll throw up and then come back for more." [...]"

    Wow, that sounds a lot like the crowd at lift, just replace marshmallows with liquid cocaines or tokyo iced teas...

  8. artlung says:

    Dear Monkeys, please stop exploring your sexuality and economics, it really freaks us out.