Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Monkey Money

This story comes courtesy of the last chapter of Superfreakonomics, an interesting read that stirs up lots of unusual ideas about human behavior.

Scientists trained capuchin monkeys to use money. They gave them coins and slowly taught the monkeys that they could use those coins to buy food. After several months, the coins soon become just as important as food.

So it was pretty amazing when, one day, one of the monkeys made a break for the tray that held all the coins. In the first documented case of a capuchin monkey bank heist, he grabbed the whole tray and ran back into the cage, scattering coins all over. It was a monkey free-for-all as they all scrambled to grab the coins.

This in itself was pretty amazing, but even more amazing was what happened next. One of the monkeys, instead of keeping his coin so he could buy some food, ran over to another monkey and gave it the coin. Is this an example of pure altruism in the monkey world? A tribute to a monkey with higher status? Paying back a debt?

The answer became much more clear when, seconds after this transaction, the two monkeys were having sex.

The scientists had just witnessed the first-ever case of monkey prostitution!

Mere months after money was introduced to these primates, they had already discovered that you could pay for, or be paid for, sex.

I think this proves that it really is the oldest profession.

1 comment:

Dan S said...

Wow, I must have missed that in the book, or didn't remember it.

Prostituion is not just the oldest profession -- it is even older than our species.