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Capuchins Aren't Fooled by Price Tag 'Monkey Business'

Dec 03, 2014 06:51 PM EST
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Ever wonder why some people bother dropping loads of cash just for those expensive name brands? According to new study, capuchin  monkeys sure do, as they aren't likely to assume that a higher price tag means better quality.

"We know that capuchin monkeys share a number of our own economic biases. Our previous work has shown that monkeys are loss-averse, irrational when it comes to dealing with risk, and even prone to rationalizing their own decisions, just like humans," Laurie Santos, a psychologist at Yale University explained in a recent statement. "But this is one of the first domains we've tested in which monkeys show more rational behavior than humans do."

Capuchin monkeys have long been considered the most intelligent of "New World Monkeys," and are often used in behavioral studies and laboratories. They have especially been noted for their long-term tool usage and attachment to objects, making them ideal for the study of value systems.

Stunningly, in 2005, these monkeys were even taught how to use a monetary system, and the resulting observations showed that not only did they understand wealth, but they even developed new ways to earn coin, through bartering or even prostitution.

Now, in a new study recently published in the journal Frontiers in Psychology, Santos has found that not only do these monkeys understand value, but they might be better shoppers than we are.

Along with Rhia Catapano, who ran the study as part of her senior honors thesis at Yale, Santos and her colleagues designed a series of four experiments to test whether capuchins would prefer higher-priced but equivalent items. Similar studies have been conducted on humans in the past. For instance, one study showed that people think a wine labeled with an expensive price tag tastes better than the same wine at a cheaper price.

However, after the monkeys were taught how to purchase foods at varying prices, they did not show the same bias as humans. Instead, they varied in purchasing choices, buying what they seemed to personally desire.

Santos believes this outlines what makes humans so different, as we are social thinkers, and often rely on the opinions of others to make choices.

"For humans, higher price tags often signal that other people like a particular good." Santos noted. "Our richer social experiences with markets might be the very thing that leads us - and not monkeys - astray in this case."

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