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Thursday, September 1, 2011

Monkey-nomics: Scientists claim capuchins 'understand using money' - and can even sniff out a bargain

By Chris Parsons

One please: A capuchin monkey appears to hand over 'currency' in return for a food item during the Yale University experiment

Researchers claim to have conducted experiments showing that monkeys can be taught how to spend money and even know how to find a bargain.

Scientists from Yale University carried out a series of tests with capuchin monkeys by giving them coin-like tokens to see if they would trade them for food items.

Academics discovered that the animals held on to the tokens as though they valued them, as well as learning how to exchange them for pieces of fruit and waiting during transactions.

Bargain hunters: The research also showed how capuchins appeared to go for the cheaper food item when offered

The group of capuchin monkeys even appeared to grasp the concept of 'bargain hunting' by flocking to lower-priced pieces of fruit, according to the study.

In research published this month in 'Mental Floss' magazine, Professor Laurie Santos, from Yale University Department of Psychology, outlined how capuchin monkeys were given a 'wallet' of 12 aluminium coin-like tokens.

The creatures were then given the option of two food options, in exchange for a food token.

The tests showed that the capuchins, including the alpha male of the group Felix, weighed up the options of both food items before obediently handing over a token in exchange for a piece of orange.

Professor Santos said the monkey's behaviour showed how the capuchins can be seen 'contemplating, thinking about what they're going to buy'.

It is thought that the monkeys behaviour differs from other animals who can also be taught to swap one item for another if there is a chance of obtaining food.

The research in Mental Floss described how the capuchins weighed up their options as 'cautious, observant shoppers', a trait previously only seen in humans.

Yale economist Keith Chen, who worked with Professor Santos, told the publication: 'We started investigating whether or not we could introduce them to a basic market economy.

'I’m not even sure we had a good idea of how it would work. But if we could, I knew there were a dozen experiments that people in the economics world would be interested in.'

Describing the process where monkeys appeared to 'buy' food, Professor Santos added: 'When you watch it, it looks like they’re contemplating, thinking about what they’re going to buy.

'What separates these capuchins from the scores of animals who have been trained to perform complex behaviors in exchange for food is the option presented by that second researcher.'

'The critical aspect of money is that it represents a choice. A coin is fundamentally different than, say, pressing a lever.'

Researchers began to experiment further by changing the prices in the 'Monkey Market' they had created.Professor Santos described how the capuchins were presented with two equally appealing food options - a Jell-o cube and an apple slice - but with the apple half the price of the Jell-o.

Transaction: A series of pictures during the Yale research shows a monkey in the 'Monkey Market' exchanging one of his coin-like tokens for food

The research, led by Professor Laurie Santos, was said to show that monkey were 'cautious, observant shoppers'

The capuchin monkeys were said to have opted on the majority of occasions for the cheaper food option - thereby reacting to a price shift.

Yale researchers claimed the animals also displayed the same tendency to wrecklessly spend savings as humans.

professor Santos added: 'One of the things we never saw in the Monkey Market was savings—just like with our own species. They always just spent all their cash at once.'



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