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Originally published December 10 2014

Monkeys are more rational, economic shoppers than humans, study finds

by L.J. Devon, Staff Writer

(NaturalNews) Humans might have a thing or two to learn from their closest relative, the monkeys. According to a new Yale study, capuchin monkeys are smarter shoppers than humans. They know a bargain when they see one and can make more rational economic decisions in the marketplace. It turns out that people shop in a much more confused manner, being inclined to associate the price of a good with its quality.

Several studies show how humans are unable to perceive the value of goods. If a bottle of wine is priced higher, people believe it tastes better. The cheaper alcoholic drink is almost always associated with lesser quality. The same goes for things like painkillers. Studies show that people think painkillers work better if they cost more.

Monkeys, on the other hand, ignore these marketing illusions, making humans look like the dumber species.

Monkeys don't correlate higher prices of food with better taste like humans do

In a simulated token economy, monkeys will pay less for an equivalent food product and not be fooled by the notion that higher prices equal better taste.

Psychologist and senior author of the study Laurie Santos worked with undergraduate student Rhia Catapano to conduct four experiments that tested the monkey's market perception. Would the monkeys prefer higher-priced items, or would they choose the cheaper equivalent of the same product?

To begin, the Yale researchers had to teach the capuchins to make choices in an experimental market. The monkeys were trained how to differentiate between common foods at different prices. In time, the monkeys began to understand the different prices of goods and their quality in control studies. When the monkeys went to taste what they had purchased in the experimental market, they learned to purchase the cheaper food equivalent. The monkeys did not correlate higher prices with better-tasting food. They quickly learned how to be more economical in their purchasing habits.

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

It appears that humans' shopping habits are skewed by some kind of psychological bias or misconception. Higher prices seem to have an irrational effect on people's food preferences. Is the higher-priced good really more effective? Do higher-priced foods really taste better or do most grocery store items come from the same place, and have the same flavor?

It seems that people are more confused than monkeys.

"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," said senior author Laurie Santos. "But this is one of the first domains we've tested in which monkeys show more rational behavior than humans do."


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