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(en) Inspite of rejudices, Monkeys Show Sense Of Fairness, Study Says (and scientists bring research findings to support the urgs for equality & freedom & solidarity.)

From Worker <a-infos-en@ainfos.ca>
Date Thu, 18 Sep 2003 13:32:24 +0200 (CEST)

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If you expect equal pay for equal work, you're not the only species
to have a sense of fair play. Blame evolution. Researchers
studying brown capuchin monkeys (Cebus apella) have found that
the highly social, cooperative species native to South America
show a sense of fairness, the first time such behavior has been
documented in a species other than humans.
The question of whether human aversion to unfair
treatment—now shown by other primates—is an evolved
behavior or the result of the cultural influence of large social
institutions like religion, governments, and schools, in the case of
humans, has intrigued scientists in recent years.

The new finding suggests evolution may have something to do
with it. It also highlights questions about the economic and
evolutionary nature of cooperation and its relationship to a
species' sense of fairness, while adding yet another chapter to our
understanding of primates.

"It looks like this behavior is evolved … it is not simply a cultural
construct. There's some good evolutionary reason why we don't
like being treated unfairly," said Sarah Brosnan, lead author of the
study to be published in tomorrow's issue of the science journal

Brosnan, a biology Ph. D. candidate schooled in zoology and
psychology at the Yerkes National Primate Research Center and
Living Links Center at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia, said
her research was inspired, in part, by studies into human
cooperation conducted by Swiss economist Ernst Fehr, who found
that people inherently reject unfairness.

Monkey Business

To test whether or not such behavior is found in other species,
Brosnan designed an experiment for brown capuchin monkeys, a
species well-known for strong social bonds and relatively
cooperative behavior, particularly in shared food-gathering
activities like hunting squirrels and locating fruit trees.

Individuals were drawn from two large, well-established social
groups of captive brown capuchins from colonies at the Yerkes
National Primate Research Center and paired with a partner. Pairs
were placed next to each other and trained to exchange with
human handlers a small granite rock within 60 seconds to receive
a reward, in most cases, a piece of cucumber.

"That may actually sound simple, but not very many species are
willing to relinquish things, especially intentionally," Brosnan said
in a telephone interview. (Think of trying to pry a large bone from
a dog's mouth.)

Only female capuchins were tested because they most closely
monitor equity, or fair treatment, among their peers, Brosnan said.

Partners of capuchins who made the swap either received the
same reward (a cucumber slice), or a better reward (a grape, a
more desirable food), for the same amount of work or, in some
cases, for performing no work at all.

Brosnan said the response to the unequal treatment was
astonishing: Capuchins who witnessed unfair treatment and failed
to benefit from it often refused to conduct future exchanges with
human researchers, would not eat the cucumbers they received
for their labors, and in some cases, hurled food rewards at human

Those actions were significant. They confirmed that not only did
capuchins expect fair treatment, but that the human desire for
equity has an evolutionary basis.

Susan Perry, a primate expert at the Max Planck Institute for
Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, studies the
behavior of Cebus capucinus, a capuchin species closely related
to brown capuchin monkeys, in the wild.

Based on her review of a brief summary, Perry described
Brosnan's research as a "fascinating paper."

"It is not so surprising to me that the monkeys act in this way,"
Perry wrote via e-mail. "After all, humans often respond in an
apparently irrational way … accepting no reward for both them
and their partners rather than accepting unequal rewards … in
the ultimatum game," she wrote, referring to the classic laboratory
test of inequity aversion.

Primate Culture

The study is the latest in a series of findings on human and
primate behavior, culture, and evolution that has spurred new
fields of inquiry.

In recent years, researchers have identified an array of unique
behaviors found among distinct groups of primate species,
including chimpanzees, orangutans, and capuchin monkeys, and
associated them with culture. Scientists have sought to explain
the social-learning processes by which such behavior is acquired
by individual members.

In 2001 Andrew Whiten at St. Andrews University, Scotland,
together with Jane Goodall and other researchers analyzed five
decades of data on chimpanzees and identified 39 distinct
behaviors tied to mating, eating, grooming, and tool use,
concluding that chimps have culture.

Researchers are turning their gaze to other primate species.
"People are looking at these so-called cultural behaviors, which
are behavioral variants between two different groups of the same
species that can't be explained by their ecology," said Brosnan.
"In other words, how come some [chimpanzees] nut-crack and
some [chimpanzees] don't, even though both of them have nuts
available that could be cracked?"

"Social learning is believed to be the mechanism by which
cultures evolve," said Brosnan, who notes that the ability to
socially learn and a species' sense of fairness must be linked, in
her view, since both require individuals in a social group to closely
observe and monitor the behavior of their peers.

Brosnan's research strengthens the tie between aversion to unfair
treatment and cooperation in species. However, scientists have
yet to tease an answer from the chicken-and-egg dilemma of
which came first, cooperation or a sense of fairness?

"We don't know whether individuals become cooperative and then
learn to not like being treated unfairly, or the other way around,"
said Brosnan. "But that opens up a whole new research field."

Her study and other research leads scientists to ponder just why
cooperation evolved and what benefits it bestowed to species.

Cooperation Economics

The finding adds new information to the debate about why species
cooperate and the economic decision-making process behind such

"No one really seems to know why individuals should cooperate,"
said Brosnan.

Some economists and scientists have argued that cooperation is
not a rational, or logical, behavior for species individuals since
energy or other resources must be expended in the effort—with
no direct benefit to the cooperative individual.

But Fehr, the Swiss economist from the University of Zurich
presently based at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in
Cambridge, among others, rejects such thinking. He argues that
logic applies not just to the ends but to the means during
economic decision-making. "There is nothing irrational in being
altruistic," he said in a telephone interview.

Brosnan echoes similar notions. "People often forgo an available
reward because it is not what they expect or think is fair," she
said in a press statement. "Our findings in nonhuman primates
indicate the emotional sense of fairness plays a key role in such

Fehr, who has published key research on the economics of human
equity, cooperation, and altruism since 1999, observed: "The new
finding that even monkeys reject unequal pay is very important, I
think, because it suggests that this is a very deeply rooted
behavior that we observe among humans."


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