monkey jealousy experiment, monkey fairness experiment

Fairness and Morality: Nurture or Nature?

My husband gave me this funny video but it’s actually a serious study on the source of morality: nurture or nature? The video is taken from a TED talk by Frans de Waal, primatologist and author of several popular books. His talk is called Moral behavior in Animals.

In this experiment, two Capuchin monkeys are presented with an unfairness scenario.  As de Waal notes, cucumbers are acceptable  food for the monkeys, but they prefer grapes. De Waal claims that monkeys like food in proportion to its price at the supermarket — he’s a funny guy and worth watching if you have 18 minutes.

The two Capuchins can see each other, one getting cucumbers and the other grapes  for performing the same task. They must give the experimenter a rock before they get a piece of food.

Watch what happens. Then think about how it applies to humans (and in parenting!!)

p.s. This is his book. His fundamental question is Evolved Morality? Can we evolve morality without God and religion? Interesting topic!

By Mia Wenjen, PragmaticMom


  1. Asianmommy

    Haha! That scenario looks familiar. 🙂
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  2. This video was really great,,, Thanks so much for sharing! I can’t wait to see future studies on this topic.

  3. Have you read the book? I would be curious to hear what you think of it!
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  4. Jeanette Nyberg

    I love these sorts of experiments – so interesting. I can’t watch the video right now, since I’m in Starbucks, but I’ll have a family sit-down later to watch. I have a feeling the poor monkey who gets stuck with the cucumbers won’t be very happy. DON’T TELL ME WHAT HAPPENS!
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  5. Rose

    That scenario does look all too familiar lol. Poses an interesting question though.
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  6. Ann

    So funny! For the longest time I wouldn’t give my kids chocolate milk for fear they would stop liking regular milk.
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