If you give a monkey some money, what will they do with it? Perhaps buy a thousand bananas? Invest in a good poo-throwing machine? Maybe start a little monkey business?
It may seem like a silly question, but scientists thought it was a good thing to ask, which just goes to show that it’s awesome to be a scientist. So Yale University psychologist Venkat Lakshminaryanan (try saying that 3 times fast) and his colleagues devised an experiment to see if other species could be trained to use money in the same way that people do. In 2008 they trained a group of capuchins (the type of monkey that was in Night at the Museum) to trade tokens for food. They even gave the monkeys little wallets to carry their money around in.
Not only did the monkeys learn to exchange their money for food and treats, but they showed they had good economic sense, quickly learning which of the people would give them the best deals and choosing to buy from them. Also just like humans, once they had something, they valued it higher: When they had extra food to trade, they generally wanted others to pay them a higher price than they themselves were willing to pay for the same food.
- Extend this concept to other species in a thought experiment: If horses, whales, dolphins, tigers, or mice could be trained to use money, what would they buy?
Reference: Bruce Hood, “Mine!” Scientific American Mind, Sept/Oct. 2011, p. 62