Ming the Mechanic
The NewsLog of Flemming Funch

Monday, June 6, 2005day link 

 Monkey Business
picture Article in New York Times about an economist who does economic experiments with monkeys. And he finds that they behave like people in many ways.
Two monkeys faced each other in adjoining cages, each equipped with a lever that would release a marshmallow into the other monkey's cage. The only way for one monkey to get a marshmallow was for the other monkey to pull its lever. So pulling the lever was to some degree an act of altruism, or at least of strategic cooperation.

The tamarins were fairly cooperative but still showed a healthy amount of self-interest: over repeated encounters with fellow monkeys, the typical tamarin pulled the lever about 40 percent of the time. Then Hauser and Chen heightened the drama. They conditioned one tamarin to always pull the lever (thus creating an altruistic stooge) and another to never pull the lever (thus creating a selfish jerk). The stooge and the jerk were then sent to play the game with the other tamarins. The stooge blithely pulled her lever over and over, never failing to dump a marshmallow into the other monkey's cage. Initially, the other monkeys responded in kind, pulling their own levers 50 percent of the time. But once they figured out that their partner was a pushover (like a parent who buys her kid a toy on every outing whether the kid is a saint or a devil), their rate of reciprocation dropped to 30 percent -- lower than the original average rate. The selfish jerk, meanwhile, was punished even worse. Once her reputation was established, whenever she was led into the experimenting chamber, the other tamarins "would just go nuts," Chen recalls. "They'd throw their feces at the wall, walk into the corner and sit on their hands, kind of sulk."

He also learned that the monkeys might cheat or steal to get what they want. And they might think of new kinds of exchanges, like paying for sex, or trying to pass on counterfeit coins. And they would make the same kind of irrational choices as humans tend to, like making certain choices, when presented with a gamble, which seem emotionally satisfying, but which might not be rational.
When taught to use money, a group of capuchin monkeys responded quite rationally to simple incentives; responded irrationally to risky gambles; failed to save; stole when they could; used money for food and, on occasion, sex. In other words, they behaved a good bit like the creature that most of Chen's more traditional colleagues study: Homo sapiens.

Now, this is all a somewhat touchy subject with economists, because economic theory traditionally assumes that it is only humans who can act economically, based on our ability to think rationally. Which is probably a bunch of crap, as humans don't think very rationally half the time, and most economic choices aren't rational. Might very well have a lot more to do with being conditioned. You want this tasty banana (car, tv, house), push this button (go downtown and push papers around all day).
[ | 2005-06-06 21:54 | 5 comments | PermaLink ]  More >

 Apple on Intel
Apple switches to Intel. Uarrrh, I'm shocked. ....... Well, maybe it can end up being a good thing, even if it flirts a little too much with the dark side of the force. Maybe macs can cost the same as PCs. Maybe they'll find some way of making them better anyways. Maybe they'll run Windows apps at full speed, and then finally be able to sell tons of Macs to enterprises, based on having zero viruses and zero spyware and few security vulnerabilities, and having much lower cost of ownership. I don't know.
[ | 2005-06-06 23:32 | 0 comments | PermaLink ]

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