Freakonomics in the Times Magazine: Monkey Business

Dubner and Levitt are writing a new monthly column in the New York Times Magazine. The column, like their book, is called Freakonomics. The first installment, “Monkey Business,” concerns a young Yale economist who is teaching capuchin monkeys to use money. Click here to read the full article. Read below for bonus matter.

Keith Chen is a 29-year-old Yale economist who is teaching capuchin monkeys to use money. Why? Well, to see what they spend it on, and how their spending might relate to human spending.

Chen and his colleagues have run a series of nifty experiments, described thusly by Chen: “A capuchin monkey must decide how to spend his budget of twelve coins (located on the yellow and white striped tray in the front of the trading room.) Two human research assistants are present (one wearing blue and one wearing red), and both hold a piece of food in an orange dish for the monkey to see. The red research assistant ‘sells’ grapes and the blue research assistant ‘sells’ Jell-o cubes, with each piece of food costing a coin from the monkey’s budget. The capuchin must make a decision analogous to a grocery-store shopper’s: how much of their budget to spend of grapes and how much to spend on Jell-o.”

Before he came to Yale, Chen helped run some monkey experiments at Harvard on cotton-top tamarins: “Two unrelated tamarin monkeys sit adjoining each other. Every fifteen seconds, a human research assistant brings a tray loaded with a marshmallow that is just out of reach of one of the monkeys. The only way that monkey can eat the treat is if his partner pulls a red handle that will put the marshmallow within reach. But pulling the handle doesn’t bring any reward for the puller: pulling the handle only pays if the monkey who receives the marshmallow reciprocates by pulling in the future. Like many human situations, the monkeys must work together to obtain food and build trust while punishing failures to cooperate.”

For more information about Keith Chen, including his academic papers on free-spending monkeys and other economic phenomena, click here.


Denaye

Monkey Business is an oh so surreal manifestation of the Capuchin monkey learning how to use a budget for survival. The results of this study was unbelievable!!! The fact that these monkeys used these coins to buy for food and survive is great!!! The rate of survival slowly rises when the monkies find themselves doing whatever possible to eat. Fromstealing to paying for sex, this study was very informative and can be suggested that the theory of evolution stating that we evolved from monkies is quite evident, because they displayed the same traits humans do. Ironically, they were only taught to pay for food. I really do believe that there is a close acestorial connection there. The study calls into question, where the monkies learned this behavior and are really as smart as humans or maybe ever smarter.

Elizabeth Torres

About that question you posted before if monkeys are really smart as humans or even smarter, I think that they are not as clever you might believe, they are just part of our past, part of our common history as humankind, they are not showing new features they are just reacting as you or me could have reacted to an incentive, or not Mr. Levitt? I think economics is a vast science that is too complex that can't be applied only to humans...that would be very selfish...we are not alone in planet, we share our space with thousands and thousands of species, and as we saw with our monkeys they learn to response to incentives the same way as we do in our process of socialization.

jojo

its about time those monkey's started earning their keep...whats their tax rate to be?

Denaye

Monkey Business is an oh so surreal manifestation of the Capuchin monkey learning how to use a budget for survival. The results of this study was unbelievable!!! The fact that these monkeys used these coins to buy for food and survive is great!!! The rate of survival slowly rises when the monkies find themselves doing whatever possible to eat. Fromstealing to paying for sex, this study was very informative and can be suggested that the theory of evolution stating that we evolved from monkies is quite evident, because they displayed the same traits humans do. Ironically, they were only taught to pay for food. I really do believe that there is a close acestorial connection there. The study calls into question, where the monkies learned this behavior and are really as smart as humans or maybe ever smarter.

Elizabeth Torres

About that question you posted before if monkeys are really smart as humans or even smarter, I think that they are not as clever you might believe, they are just part of our past, part of our common history as humankind, they are not showing new features they are just reacting as you or me could have reacted to an incentive, or not Mr. Levitt? I think economics is a vast science that is too complex that can't be applied only to humans...that would be very selfish...we are not alone in planet, we share our space with thousands and thousands of species, and as we saw with our monkeys they learn to response to incentives the same way as we do in our process of socialization.

jojo

its about time those monkey's started earning their keep...whats their tax rate to be?