Abstract of Article: It is not difficult to observe the similarities between humans and monkeys. We see ourselves in them, in their faces, their facial expressions, their relationship to family and society and their sense of fun and adventure. Although there are thousands of wild monkeys all over the world, we have only recently discovered how remarkable they really are. Studying monkeys has led us to greater understandings about ourselves and the way our minds work. The blueprints on which we are based is closest to that of the monkey than any other animal. How much of the human experience is shared by monkeys has been the basis of research for a number of decades, nonhuman primate research was taking place from as early as the 1930’s with Harry Harlow and his study of surrogate mothers. More recently, researchers have been studying monkeys to help them understand the way the human mind works. The study of monkeys is a valuable way to help us understand the way that we as humans think, it can shed light on our evolutionary development and ultimately highlights the fact that the behaviors that we consider to be human, may not be solely human after all.
MONKEY’S GAMBLING AND TAKING CARE OF HUMAN CATS
There are over 200 different species of monkeys in the world. Some live in trees, others on the ground and they are all considered to be particularly smart and intelligent creatures. In the first half of the 20th century, Darwin published his Theory of Evolution in which he speculated that all life is related and man originally evolved from a monkey in a process called natural selection.
When it comes to testing our primitive instincts and behaviours the monkey is the perfect choice. Studies have already shown that monkey’s can be taught to recognize themselves in a mirror, use money and even communicate via sign language.
More recently there has been some fascinating research carried out by researchers that have taught monkeys the basics of gambling games in an attempt to observe the response of the monkey to a risky situation. Are monkeys likely to take risks, and if so what can we learn about human behaviours from their conduct?
To analyze whether out inability to distinguish between randomness and order is due to environmental factors or whether we were just born this way, Tommy Blanchard a Doctoral candidate at the University of Rochester together with Hayden and Wilke, Psychology professors from Clarkson University, conducted a study using juvenile rhesus monkeys. Their study published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: Animal Learning and Cognition,[i] was to determine whether monkeys demonstrate the same biases as those displayed by humans when playing gambling games. If the same proclivity towards believing in a winning and losing streak was shared with the monkeys, the researchers could determine that this is a predisposition that is ingrained in our cognitive psychology.
The researchers created a computer game that the monkeys were taught to play. The game had three different screens. In two of the games the objects were positively correlated. In one of the games the winning object was on the right side of the screen whilst in the other game, the winning object was on the left side of the screen. If the monkey would gaze at the winning object he would be rewarded with some juice. The monkeys quickly learned to make smart decisions and when a clear pattern existed, the monkey correctly guessed the answer received his reward. The third screen however was negatively correlated. The monkeys would receive a reward either for picking the object on the right side of the screen or the left side of the screen.
When the monkeys were presented with the completely random screen their choices were made as if they expected their winning or losing streak to continue. In other words, even when the outcome was random the monkeys would follow a trend. The researchers conducted thousands of trials and the monkeys continued to display this bias consistently, even with specialized training to teach them alternative strategies, the monkeys continued to show the same tendency and favour the hot- hand approach.
A more recent study by researchers at the University of Rochester and Columbia University including Hayden[ii] demonstrate that rhesus macaques have such hearty curiosity they are willing to give up a surprisingly large portion of a potential prize in order to find out as quickly as possible if they selected the winning option at a game of chance.
In the study, monkeys were presented with a video gambling task in which they consistently chose to learn in advance if they had picked the winning option. The monkeys did not receive their prize of juice or water any sooner they were simply informed immediately if they had selected a winner. The researchers found the monkeys not only consistently selected the gamble that informed them immediately if they had picked a winner, they were even willing to select that option when the winnings were 25% less than the gamble that required them to wait for the results.
This study helps the researchers build a clearer picture of how curiosity is registered in the brain of both human and non-human primates and it will become instrumental in helping researchers figure out why this process is corrupted in some people such as those with an anxiety disorder or a gambling compulsion.
MONKEYS TAKING CARE OF HUMAN CATS
Cases of one animal keeping another as a pet usually occur among animals that are kept in captivity, but there are also documented cases of monkeys such as macaques keeping a pet from another species, such as a cat. It is no surprise that this behaviour has been most frequently observed among monkeys and apes who are known for their intelligence and intricate social structures and hierarchies.
A film crew filming the monkeys at the Monkey Forest in Bali, Indonesia in October 2008 noticed that a monkey seemed to have a kitten for a baby.
These ‘stray’ encounters seem to happen frequently on the streets (and in the wilds) of Thailand, India, Indonesia and other South East Asian countries that are home to the macaque.
Here is another short video clip of a beautiful friendship between a monkey and a cat.
Cats are solitary hunters they do not rely on a social survival strategy. They often live in colonies with each other. Monkeys also have a very intricate social structure and both monkeys and cats engage in an activity called social grooming that includes body maintenance like licking, scratching and delousing. Although monkeys and cats may share some common activities and characteristics, it is still highly unusual to ever observe a monkey actually adopting a monkey as her own and nursing it.
HUMAN AND MONKEYS SHARED BEHAVIOUR
Almost every study of monkeys to date has concluded that monkeys share many of the same traits, behaviours and even biases as human primates. Whilst it may be easy for us to understand how a monkey can learn a simple task by copying a human action, many behaviours such as empathy and communication have also been observed among non human primates.
A recent study at the University of St Andrews offers evidence that kindness and sharing among young chimpanzees is learnt from the pro-social behaviour of their peers. This regard for the welfare of each other has traditionally been presented as a uniquely human behaviour. This study provides the first evidence that both children and chimpanzees share common traits of altruism that can be learned from experiencing the behaviour of others.
When it comes to gambling, humans and monkeys also share many shared behaviours. The hot hand fallacy that is so common to players at the land based and online casino is the belief that your luck comes in streaks. This leads players to believe that a few winning games of online pokies is going to continue indefinitely and this prompts them to continue betting on the game even when luck is no longer on their side. Both monkeys and humans attempt to see patterns where none exist. It has been suggested that this hot-hand bias can be traced back to our evolutionary history when we were hunters and gatherer. When foraging for food, it was common for the food to appear in concentrated areas, this tendency then led to the hot-bias that is still in evidence today. However evolved we feel we have become and despite the enormous strides we have in technological innovation, our human DNA and that of our fellow non-human primates is overwhelmingly similar.
From the tiny pygmy marmoset in South America to the aggressive baboons of Africa and compassionate toque macaques in Sri Lanka monkey behavior challenges many of our ideas about what it means to be human.
Monkeys are smart animals who much like humans need socialization in order to thrive. They communicate with other monkeys though a variety of vocalizations and they are very committed to their young. They also use non verbal communication to connect with each other, sitting close together and touching each other’s faces. They use facial expressions to show emotions and have a very detailed hierarchy.
The many fascinating studies with monkeys over the years have not only increased our understanding of these incredibly intelligent creatures, they have also helped us understand some of the seemingly false or irrational decisions that we humans make.
The results of the experiments such as those carried out by Blanchard, Hayden and Wilke are even more interesting. The choices that the monkeys make when gambling are completely instinctive, they have not been taught about probability or luck, they act simply on their instincts. Humans, who have some understanding of probability and randomly occurring events, appear to gamble in the exact same way as the monkeys. This shared behavior must be based on some primitive instincts about the way the world works.
The similarities and overlap between monkeys and humans that has been observed in so many different areas of our lives goes much further than that of simple DNA, our shared beliefs and behaviors provide valuable insight into the ecological and evolutionary process. Once we can better understand some of the root causes of our behavior, we are better equipped able to develop strategies and therapies to help us overcome our basic and natural bias or instinctive impulses.
- For a beautiful documentary on monkeys by the world renowned broadcaster and Naturalist, Sir David Attenborough:
BBC – Natural World – Clever Monkeys Narrated by Sir David Attenborough http://topdocumentaryfilms.com/clever-monkeys/
2. What Monkeys Can Teach Us about Human Behavior: From Facts to Fiction
- Monkeys are just as curious as us and share our thirst for knowledge.
- The Chimp that learned sign language.
5. Study of Human and Monkey Brains Reveals Surprising Similarity Yet Major Differences
- Gambling primates: reactions to a modified Iowa Gambling Task in humans, chimpanzees and capuchin monkeys