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April 24, 2013
Jewish World Review
January 11, 2008
/ 4 Shevat 5768
This research is monkey business
Capuchin monkeys have been playing a "no-fair" game at Emory University.
Researchers trained the monkeys to take a small rock and hand it to a human in
exchange for a reward. If all the monkeys received the same reward, a slice of
cucumber, everything was cool. If some received cucumbers and some received grapes,
the monkeys screamed, "No-fair!" (although it sounded a lot more like "Eeeee-eeeee!
Eeee!") and bedlam broke loose.
You have to wonder if the researchers got the idea for this study from their own kids.
My personal experience has been that the "no-fair" game is not something to
cultivate, but something to eradicate.
"No, your sister is not the favorite because she gets to sit in the front seat and
you have to sit in the back seat with a cooler, an emergency car kit and Grandma on
your lap. Your sister is just faster, that's all."
"No, I don't think the lady gave you a smaller ice cream cone because she doesn't
like boys. I think she saw you smash your face and hands and tongue against the
window and make a hideous face before we came in the store."
"No, it's not fair that there aren't as many baby pictures of you in the photo album
because you were the last one born and Dad and I ran out of energy. Get the camera
and I can take some now. You're 22? When did that happen?"
Researchers, who frequently swing from a different tree, see whining and complaining
over "no-fair" as a mark of advanced development.
Frankly, I find it impressive that researchers can study such ugly behavior and make
it all sound so sophisticated. So progressive. So insightful.
"Jones, look at that. No. 3 is furious over getting a cucumber instead of a grape.
He is leaping over to No. 5, baring his teeth, and sinking them into No. 5's flesh.
Fascinating! What remarkable thought processes! "
Let similar behavior take place in a grocery store and a parent's thought is never,
"What remarkable thought processes!" but rather, "How can I stop these chimps from
killing one another without creating a scene and being followed by store security?"
What I'm waiting for is the day when monkeys do research on humans. "Look at that,
Cheeta, they're fighting over some piece of paper called a paycheck. Dude 2 says
Dude 3 got a bigger one. Wow! Dude 2 is turning red and his eyes are bulging! Look
at Dude 3 scream. What apes!"
And then the researcher monkeys laugh their little heads off, throw cucumber slices
at the humans and eat more grapes.
Perhaps it is useful to know that bickering over who got the bigger and better may
actually be a sign of advanced intellect.
Now, when you pass out birthday cake and one slice is slightly larger than the rest
and a kid protests, you can simply comment on how brilliant the child is and then
tell said child to cut out the monkey business and eat the cake.
I always considered hissy fits over "no-fair" something that fell into the category
of unattractive behavior. I am stunned to learn that researchers believe such
shenanigans are a sign of evolutionary progress.
I'll be a monkey's uncle.
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© 2008, Lori Borgman
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