In which our intrepid hero wonders not whether men are animals, but whether animals are men.

The New York Times Magazine has an excellent article this week on the emergent field of behavioural economics.

In particular, Yale economist Keith Chen has taught capuchin monkeys to use money. Not only do the monkeys exchange money for food, but they’ve also been taught to gamble, and react in surprisingly human ways to economic pressures. And Chen even witnessed the first ever recorded example of monkey prostitution.

Also of interest are his graduate experiments at Harvard with cotton-top tamarinds. Chen (and his colleague, Marc Hauser) sought to model altruistic behaviour. One tamarind was conditioned to give marshmallows freely; another to stingily refuse to do so. The former was pretty much taken for granted, and had little favour returned; the latter got crap thrown at it.

Have they ever tried doing these experiments with political parties?

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