Unexpectedly enterprising: Capuchin monkeys understand a lot about money handling. Photo: David M. Jensen / Wikipedia
Reading aloud Monkeys can handle money unexpectedly well: they use discounts, understand the concept of different purchasing power and sometimes even save money. But even with them, too much money spoils the character - it can turn them into scammers and thieves. In all cases, justice is important to both animals and humans, and like humans, monkeys are also fearful of loss. The discount promotion was a complete success: the jelly dumplings offered for half price went away like hot cakes, and even bulk purchases were not uncommon. Non-reduced merchandise, on the other hand, had a rather difficult stand, even the otherwise very popular apples. An everyday situation? In principle already - only that the bargain hunters were not supermarket visitors, but capuchin monkeys.

The hairy journeymen and their relatives can deal with money almost as well as humans, reports the magazine "bild der wissenschaft" in its April issue. Otherwise, they are not among the animals that make themselves known for their superior intelligence: they do not recognize each other in the mirror, they rarely look at the abilities of conspecifics and even more seldom do they voluntarily turn things out of themselves once again have conquered. Nevertheless, the little monkeys can become true financial jugglers within a few months, as several research teams have already shown.

There is, for example, the matter of purchasing power. When the two US researchers Sarah Brosnan and Frans de Waal introduced differently large pieces of granite as currency in their capuchin monkeys, the animals understood quite quickly that their "coins" were not all equally valuable - and that only with the larger, the really tasty vegetable snacks could buy. Even saving is not a purely human invention, as the chimpanzees of the Portuguese anthropologist Claudia Sousa, for example, show that they diverted part of the coins that they received as a reward and placed them on the high ridge.

Sometimes, however, money also reveals unpleasant characteristics to our furry cousins. For example, one of the capuchin monkeys spontaneously invented the concept of fraud: he got a slice of cucumber in his fingers that superficially resembled the otherwise used coins, and immediately tried to subtly put it under the researchers' notice. Scientists have also been able to spot theft - and even a case of commercial love in which females allowed a male to sex for a male. The lady then put the merit directly into natural: she bought some delicious grapes. display

Just as in humans, in most cases the aspiration to maximize profits dictates behavior. However, this changes when the animals feel ripped off: For example, if they observe that their cage neighbor receives a bunch of grapes for the same amount of money, for which they have received only an unloved slice of cucumber, they forfeit their purchase - and do so Injustice makes it worse. This also exists in humans, behavioral economists know from a whole series of studies. In an emergency, human subjects even renounce profits to punish unfair business. So you show that you can not be so easily deceived and educated the other at the same time to comply with the rules.

And another peculiarity in financial matters divide humans and monkeys, reports "image of the science": with both the fear of a loss is greater than the joy over a profit. This principle is well illustrated by a play made by Keith Chen and Laurie Santos from Yale University with some capuchin monkeys. The monkeys had to put a coin on the table for a piece of fruit, but got a second piece on top for every second purchase. Then the researchers turned the game over: The furry subjects were officially given two pieces of fruit for a coin, but were cheated in one of every two barter deals.

Although the chances were completely identical objectively - in both cases the monkeys got one or two fruit pieces alternately - the animals did not like the second game at all: If they were able to choose between the two variants, they opted for the first in 75 percent of the cases Game. People also have a strong aversion to situations where they are in danger of losing money, and prefer bonus systems even if in the end they bring in less than the alternative. In addition, an object increases in value on the personal scale in the moment in which it is taken possession - a phenomenon that is also called "endowment effect".

For this reason, homeowners are only very hesitant to sell their homes below their self-paid price if they have to put in huge sums every month. Peter Hammerstein, economist at the Berlin Humboldt University, explains it this way: "This instinct means that the first owner is willing to invest much more in the preservation of his property, as invaders want to bid to abolish the property of the owner" - and that goes for humans as for monkeys.

Rolf Degen: "hairy nepotism", in bild der wissenschaft 4/2007, page 92 ddp / science.de - Ilka Lehnen-Beyel

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