Thursday, March 01, 2007

Wise monkeys

One of mankind's traits that I had always treated with disdain until comparitively recently was the personification of animals.

Deciding that lions are brave, elephants wise and jackals cunning may be based on observations in the field, but I'd always thought that anything that characterised animals as having personalities and morals was wrong.

Until I saw a TV programme a few years ago that proved that monkeys DO have morals.

I don't remember the scientist involved or the name of the programme, but the basic premise was:

Take two monkeys

Sit them in front of a button

When the first monkey presses the button, give it a grape

When the second monkey presses the button, give it a biscuit


Each time the first monkey pressed the button, the scientist handed it a grape, which it initially devoured with pleasure.

But when it saw that the second monkey received a biscuit for carrying out the same task, it reacted in an unexpected manner.

At first, it continued pressing the button and receiving its grapes. But after a few rounds, it became agitated, immediately discarding grapes and re-pressing the button in an effort to extract a biscuit from the scientist.

It watched the second monkey receive its biscuits, and began efforts to steal them. Then, in a final hissy fit, it threw its grapes at the scientist, jumped on him and attempted to get straight to the bag of biscuits.

The point of the experiment was to prove that monkeys, like humans, are capable of rationalising what is fair and unfair. And that monkey didn't think it was fair that his friend was receiving a better reward for carrying out the same task.

I've known lots of dogs over the years that quickly worked out that if they performed a certain trick when requested, they would receive a reward. But I can't imagine any of those dogs realising the fairness of different rewards for performing the same trick.

However, just in case dogs do have a deeper thought process than we give them credit for, when Mrs Wife and I move into Dungroanin' and adopt a couple of dogs, I'll be sure to treat them equally, for fear of being murdered in my bed by the spurned sibling.

Inspiration for this post came from Chimps, Snow Dogs and other assorted trivia over at Another Cup of Coffee and I May get Something Done.

(And before any of you smartarses point it out, I know that the photograph is of a chimpanzee, not a monkey. But I don't care.)

1 comment:

CSL said...

I knew someone once who had a dog who threw up every time he and his wife started arguing. Stopped the fight everytime.