Fairness and monkey business

Johnnie Moore

Johnnie Moore

I’m Johnnie Moore, and I help people work better together

The Frontal Cortex: Inequality and the Perception of Fairness. I love the experiments psychologists come up with.

One of the more powerful examples of this behavior comes from Franz Waals and Sarah Brosnan who trained brown capuchin monkeys to give them pebbles in exchange for cucumbers. Almost overnight, a capuchin economy developed, with hungry monkeys harvesting small stones. But the marketplace was disrupted when the scientists got mischievous: instead of giving every monkey a cucumber in exchange for pebbles, they started giving some monkeys a tasty grape instead. (Monkeys prefer grapes to cucumbers.) After witnessing this injustice, the monkeys earning cucumbers went on strike. Some started throwing their cucumbers at the scientists; the vast majority just stopped collecting pebbles. The capuchin economy ground to a halt. The monkeys were willing to forfeit cheap food simply to register their anger at the arbitrary pay scale.

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