Industrial Monkeys of the World, Unite!

So I’m reading the Freakonomics blog at work (an obvious slowdown action meant to undermine office productivity, as I am feeling underutilized) when I happen upon a nifty little gem of an article.

Okay, I didn’t happen upon it. It was linked from the NYT homepage. But anyway.

Frans De Wal is talking about an experiment in which two monkeys were given a task and rewarded with either a grape or a cucumber…

However, if they received different rewards, the one who got the short end of the stick would begin to waver in its responses, and very soon start a rebellion by either refusing to perform the task or refusing to eat the cucumber.

The question becomes: is this response rational or irrational? Should the monkey maximize its returns by doing the work for whatever it can get? Or should it take the “irrational” route, and react with “inequity aversion” (otherwise known as pitching a fit).

De Wal continues…

I actually don’t think the response is irrational at all, but related to the fact that in a cooperative system, one needs to watch what kind of investment one makes and what one gets in return. If your partners always ends up getting a greater share, this means that you’re being taken advantage of. So, the rational thing to do is withhold cooperation until the reward division improves.

So, let me get this straight. If monkeys don’t get equitable returns on their investments, they should stop working until the distribution improves? Remarkable. And they actually do it.

I’d love to see something about this experiment being done on a larger scale and to see what happens.

What, wait–it’s been done? Wow.


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