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Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Monkeying Around on MAGNOLIA

While browsing MAGNOLIA to help answer a reference question, I found an article from Social Justice Research by Sarah F. Brosnan titled “Nonhuman Species’ Reactions to Inequity and their Implications for Fairness.” In the article Brosnan attempts to discover if chimpanzees recognize the inherent unfairness in receiving unequal payment for equal work. To get a response, subject monkeys were rewarded a token after they completed a chore. The monkeys then used the token to obtain their reward. Some monkeys were given cucumbers, which they like, while other monkeys were given grapes, which they love. The experiment shows that the monkeys were happy with cucumbers until they noticed their friends were getting grapes for the same work. This picture shows one monkey's reaction upon receiving cucumbers.

Brosnan argues that by studying animal reactions to inequality we can better understand the evolution of cooperative interactions among humans. This makes sense to me so I’m inclined to agree with her. But, this article mostly made me think about two things. First, messing with monkeys is funny. Look at that picture; that monkey really wants his grape! I think it’s important to note here that the monkey is not being hurt; rather the monkey is just being irritated. I don’t know why the idea of irritating monkeys makes me laugh, but it does. I mean, every time I look at that picture I laugh.

Secondly, this article reminds me that America is the greatest country on earth. Isn’t it amazing that some of the smartest people in America get paid to think of ways to tick off monkeys? I’m sure the experiment can help us understand how humans evolved into communal animals or whatever, but, in the end, isn’t this experiment simply about cheating a monkey out of his hard earned grapes? Man, America rocks!

Brosnan, Sarah. 2006. "Nonhuman Species' Reactions to Inequity and their Implications for Fairness". Social Justice Research. 19 (2): 153-185.

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