Monkeys, the Next New Market?

File this under the heading that it’s not only people who are strange.


In my “day off” yesterday, I ran into a pair of interesting videos about economics in the monkey community.  That last isnot a sentence I every thought I might type in my lifetime, but it is proof that the world is a strange and wonderful place.  Anyway, in both cases, researchers taught monkeys how to use money to pay for various products and then let them loose to purchase things they cared about.  In the end, you find that they operate pretty much exactly as humans do–including some things that were a bit, uh, well, things that show that us humans are not so unique in the way we think about things.

Here’s the first, from a Freakonomics Radio movie.  It’s pretty quick–only 5 minutes.  It discusses basic economics and ends with social ramifications of the kinds of things a thinking species might do in societies that get focused on acquiring currency.

And here’s a more in-depth discussion (runs 20-some minutes) that explores what I think of as human risk processing.  While I don’t like the speaker’s suggestion that our financial decisions are “dumb,” I think the basic concept behind the findings are quite interesting to think about.

I came around to both of these in a case of some serendipity, as I’ve been bouncing a story idea in my head that has economic and currency issues.  So they really have me thinking.  How far can they go?  Can they understand interest?  Could they start saving?  How about banking, and stocks, and all those weird market derivatives?

Or how about this?  How about we give them access to  The Monkey Market.  Perhaps, it’s the next new growth area, eh?  [grin]

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    The TED talk was interesting in that it seems that much of our “bad” decision-making capability may be hard-wired, but I wonder if some of that hard-wiring may have to do with how well those “poor” decision-making skills might have benefited us in terms of general survival? Choosing high-sugar food sources would be the same as searching out high-ENERGY food sources in nature, and that could equal greater odds of overall survivability during cold, foodless winters, for example. This type of hard-wiring may have made us more likely to emerge as “the fittest” in the survival economy, while serving us poorly in the monetary economy.

  2. Yes, that’s true. Calories have been in short supply throughout most of history, I suppose. The thing I think is most interesting in the equation of monkey vs. human reactions noted here are the similarities in how we process the risk equation. It’s getting harder and harder to define what makes us human beings different from other species.

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