Monday, September 10, 2012

What happens when you give a monkey a cucumber? (Video)

Good morning all. Have you ever found yourself in a situation where you were treated unfairly? What was your reaction? Did you get angry or did you walk away? The concept of "fairness" is very subjective and differs from person to person (or from monkey to monkey).

In economics, we consider the rational agent. Someone who is selfishly trying to maximize his/her enjoyment level. However the results of the dictator game as this was discussed in a previous post prove otherwise. In the dictator game, the dictator can choose to give the receiver any amount from the money allocated in the beginning of the game. The receiver does not have the ability to accept or reject. The logical course of action for a selfish dictator would be to give the receiver a big fat zero. However once the experiment is conducted, we observe that dictators give some positive amount to receivers.

The reason for this can be twofold. Either the dictator is worried how his/her actions are going to be perceived by the person who runs the experiment, or there is indeed a sense of fairness embedded in our personality.

For this reason an experiment involving two monkeys was run in a laboratory. In the video that follows each monkey had to give the experimenter a rock. The experimenter in turn rewarded the monkey on the left with a piece of cucumber. Cucumbers are acceptable to monkeys though they are not considered to be a treat. The monkey on the right was rewarded with a piece of grape, the most delicious treat for monkeys. Take a look at the reaction of the cucumber monkey,

It seems that although perceptions matter, people are born with some degree of fairness embedded in their character. Knowing what is considered to be fair though, does not cause a person to act in that way. But this is another topic that will be discussed in a future post.

In the meantime, have a fair day!


  1. That is a very funny video! Thanks for sharing! :)

  2. Great article! But did John A. List not undermine the dictator game fundamentally? The monkey video is great also ha. Keep making these articles, they are really good to read!