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Monkeynomics Revisited

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In her “Monkeynomics” video, Laurie Santos explains that when it comes to economics, monkeys are “smart in the same way humans are smart.” Laurie’s research demonstrates that, if given the opportunity, monkeys—just like humans—will try to take advantage of sales and get the most for their money.

But just as monkeys are smart like us, Laurie’s found that monkeys are dumb like us, too. Her research shows that in terms of economic thinking, monkeys make the same kinds of mistakes that we make—in fact, the kinds of mistakes that can lead to cataclysmic worldwide meltdowns. Says Laurie:

Money for nothing, chimps for free.

“Many of the kinds of errors that led to things like the financial collapse are exactly the kinds of bias strategies we see in our monkeys. So we often can just look at the newspaper, and it almost looks like we’re back in the lab working with our capuchins.”

So if we see it in monkeys and we see it in ourselves, does that mean faulty economic thinking might actually be hard-wired in us primates? Would an orangutan cash in his 401k? Would a lemur run up a huge credit-card debt? And why do we humans make the same dumb choices… over and over again?

What do you think?

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Tom Miller

    Tom Miller is the producer of “Secret Life” and co-editor of the site’s blog. His job involves interviewing scientists and engineers, getting them to tell their amazing stories and occasionally trying to get them to sing. It’s a fantastic gig and Tom is extremely grateful for it.