Friday, October 23, 2009

Monkeys with Skills Earn More than Senior Monkeys

Physorg (among others) has a story about a test involving groups of vervet monkeys. The group was in a room with a barrel of apples that none of them knew how to open. None of them, that is except for one low ranking female who wasn't getting much attention or income. (What is monkey income you ask? Getting groomed by other monkeys.) However, once this skilled junior would open the barrel and hand out apples, she suddenly became much more popular (and groomed). This proves that in the monkey world as well, girls like guys (or girls) who have skills (although not in this case nunchuku skills, bow hunting skills, computer hacking skills).

But it gets really interesting when the researchers introduce a second skilled monkey to the group. Suddenly Barrel-cracker #1 no longer has a monopoly on the apple market. The invisible monkey hand reacts to the adjusted supply and demand, and the additional apple-getter drives down the 'price' of apples, so now each of the skilled monkeys gets groomed some intermediate amount: more than a normal junior-rank monkey but more than if they were the only barrel-opener in the bunch.

It's interesting that such price reduction takes place even without language, showing how ubiquitous basic economic theory is.
A change in price - grooming for less long if there is another monkey that supplies apples - is only possible if a negotiation process takes place. Many economists assume that such negotiations can only take place if they are concluded with a contract. However, the vervet monkeys do not have the possibility to conclude such binding contracts and yet they still succeed in agreeing to a change in price for a service.

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