Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Knee Jerk Reactions: Monkey See Monkey Do

I've written about knee jerk reactions before, and how people seem to be conditioned to react in certain ways to anything that's "outside the mainstream".

Here's an interesting psychological experiment. I'm not sure if it's real or if it's an urban legend, but it makes sense.


Start with a cage containing five monkeys.

Inside the cage, hang a banana on a string and place a stepladder under
it. Before long, one of the monkeys will spot the banana and start to
climb the ladder. As soon as he does, spray the other four monkeys with
ice-cold water.

Replace the banana.

After a while another of the monkeys will go for the banana. Again,
spray the other four monkeys with cold water. Monkeys are fairly smart,
so pretty soon whenever one of the monkeys tries to climb the ladder
all the other monkeys will try and prevent him doing it. When this
happens, put away the cold water. Remove one monkey from the cage and
replace it with a new one. Then put another banana at the top of the

The new monkey will spot the banana and make for the ladder. To his
surprise all of the other monkeys will attack him! After a couple more
attempts result in beatings, the new monkey will not make any further
attempt to go for the banana.

Remove another of the original monkeys and replace it with another new
one. Then replace the banana. As before, the newest monkey will make a
grab for it. Like his predecessor he will be amazed to find that all
the other monkeys attack him. (The previous newcomer is likely to take
part in this punishment with great enthusiasm.)

One at a time, gradually replace all of the original monkeys with new
ones. Each of the newcomers will go for the banana. Each one will be
attacked by the other four, although none of the newer monkeys will
have any idea why they are not allowed to climb the ladder, or why they
are participating in the assault on the newest monkey.

When all of the original monkeys have been replaced, none of the
remaining monkeys will ever have been sprayed with cold water.
Nevertheless no monkey ever approaches the ladder.

Why not?

Because that's the way we've always done it around here.

1 comment:

FSK said...

I found a source that says a similar experiment was performed with humans.