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Humans 1.0: banking is in our monkey genes

We think our behaviours are unique.  Our attitude to money is innately human and
our ideas of value are something that homo sapiens have created through distorted
wealth systems.

Wrong.

We have our sense of economics inbuilt through scarcity, demand
and supply.

This is demonstrated amply by monkeys who, in test labs, are
being given simulated markets and money to see how they behave.

The basic example is that monkeys believe they should all be
equal.

When you introduce inequality, they get mad.

This is ably demonstrated by Frans de Waal’s TEDx talk in
November 2011.

Frans de Waal is a biologist and primatologist best known
for his work on the behaviour and social intelligence of primates.

To show how monkeys see fairness and equality in rewards (pay), he showed this experiment:

Simple economics but very amusing (not for the monkey thought).  You can see his whole speech here. 

The thing is that scientists and biologists have spent a
long time trying to see how monkeys work, and whether we are the same.

Are our social behaviours with money and decision making
ingrained?  Is it a core part of our
genes?

Turns out it probably is.

For example, in another TEDx talk in January 2013 Colin
Camerer,
a Professor of Behavioural Finance and Economics at the California Institute of
Technology, shows that monkeys make decisions the same way we do but are better
at doing this than humans.

The most interesting study in this area has to be from Yale University
however.

In 2006, the University‘s Department of Psychology published
a fine paper titled: How Basic are Behavioural
Biases? Evidence from Capuchin Monkey Trading Behaviour
 
by M. Keith Chen, Venkat Lakshminarayanan and Laurie R. Santos.

These psychologists created a monetary based economy in a
Capuchin monkey community.

Over time, the monkeys learn behaviours that replicate the
way we behave, even to our sense of risk.

You can learn about the experiment in detail by watching the
whole of Laurie Santos’s TEDx talk from July 2010: 

What’s interesting is that the bit she leaves out in this
talk, which is probably the most intriguing part, is that the experiment
produced the first monkey prostitutes.

When their report was first produced the media picked up on
the fact that, once the monkeys learned the value of money, they began other behaviours
that were very similar to ours.

Do the capuchins
actually understand money? Or (are is the University) simply exploiting their
endless appetites to make them perform neat tricks?

Several facts suggest
the former. During a recent capuchin experiment that used cucumbers as treats,
a research assistant happened to slice the cucumber into discs instead of
cubes, as was typical. One capuchin picked up a slice, started to eat it and
then ran over to a researcher to see if he could ''buy'' something sweeter with
it. To the capuchin, a round slice of cucumber bore enough resemblance to
Chen's silver tokens to seem like another piece of currency.

Then there is the
stealing. Santos has observed that the monkeys never deliberately save any
money, but they do sometimes purloin a token or two during an experiment. All
seven monkeys live in a communal main chamber of about 750 cubic feet. For
experiments, one capuchin at a time is let into a smaller testing chamber next
door. Once, a capuchin in the testing chamber picked up an entire tray of
tokens, flung them into the main chamber and then scurried in after them — a
combination jailbreak and bank heist — which led to a chaotic scene in which
the human researchers had to rush into the main chamber and offer food bribes
for the tokens, a reinforcement that in effect encouraged more stealing.

Something else
happened during that chaotic scene, something that convinced Chen of the
monkeys' true grasp of money. Perhaps the most distinguishing characteristic of
money, after all, is its fungibility, the fact that it can be used to buy not
just food but anything. During the chaos in the monkey cage, Chen saw something
out of the corner of his eye that he would later try to play down but in his
heart of hearts he knew to be true. What he witnessed was probably the first
observed exchange of money for sex in the history of monkeykind. (Further proof
that the monkeys truly understood money: the monkey who was paid for sex
immediately traded the token in for a grape.)

So there you have it. 
Our whole sense of money, value and banking is based upon our monkey
genes.

About Chris M Skinner

Chris M Skinner

Chris Skinner is best known as an independent commentator on the financial markets through his blog, the Finanser.com, as author of the bestselling book Digital Bank, and Chair of the European networking forum the Financial Services Club. He has been voted one of the most influential people in banking by The Financial Brand (as well as one of the best blogs), a FinTech Titan (Next Bank), one of the Fintech Leaders you need to follow (City AM, Deluxe and Jax Finance), as well as one of the Top 40 most influential people in financial technology by the Wall Street Journal’s Financial News. To learn more click here…

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