Monkey Science Roundup

By: Matthew Battles
September 9, 2009


Monkeys are making news across the world of science. As we discussed last week, researchers discovered that tamarin monkeys prefer music composed for them. Yesterday, Science Daily reported a study in which monkeys were found to follow the laws of supply and demand.

In the experiment, groups of vervet monkeys were offered locked containers containing sought-after apple chunks. Initially, only one monkey — a low-status member selected by the researchers — was able to open the containers. The new supplier found herself the beneficiary of intense grooming attention from the rest of the group. But when researchers granted a second monkey access, the original supplier’s grooming time was cut in half.

“A change in price — grooming for less long if there is another monkey that supplies apples — is only possible if a negotiation process takes place,” according to Science Daily. “Many economists assume that such negotiations can only take place if they are concluded with a contract. However, the vervet monkeys do not have the possibility to conclude such binding contracts and yet they still succeed in agreeing to a change in price for a service.”

We’re hopeful that this research offers tantalizing clue to a problem that has long captured the fancy of primatologists: perhaps if an infinite number of monkeys were turned loose on an infinite number of typewriters, they’d produce The Fountainhead.



What do you think?

  1. Ha! Great 200th Hilobrow post.

    Maybe economics shouldn’t be called the dismal science — Carlyle dubbed it that, when he argued that slavery was *morally superior* to the economists’ faith in market forces of supply and demand (because unlike free laborers, who are allowed to starve, slaves are cared for by owners who want to protect their investment) — but the primate science.

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