It turns out humans aren’t the only ones who go on strike for better pay.
A recent study observed some interesting behavior in brown capuchin monkeys. The monkeys were trained to swap a stone token for food, in this case a cucumber. However, the monkeys would refuse to swap their token if they saw another monkey swap theirs for better food. If they saw another monkey get a grape, they would sulk and throw tantrums.
It turns out, after several more trials, that the monkeys will refuse to perform an action if they see another monkey get a better reward for the same action. They will in effect go on strike. The discovery was made by Megan van Wolkenten, Sarah Brosnan and Prof. Frans de Waal in studies at Yerkes National Primate Research Centre, Atlanta. They published their research in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
The findings suggest that our feelings of fairness and justice are not limited to humans, but wired into other primates’ behavior as well. This may mean our feelings have an evolutionary history. Brosnan suggests this may be how cooperative societies of primates emerged.
The capuchins had a sense of fairness that was tied to the amount of effort involved in a task. They were least likely to strike if the rewards were offered equally and they had to exert only a small amount of effort.
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