Monkeys succumb to peer pressure, study suggests


You don't have to be a teenager to want to fit in at the school lunchroom. Some wild animals seem to follow similar monkey-see, monkey-do behavior to follow the crowd and find the best eats, new research finds.

South African monkeys switched foods purely because of peer pressure, suggest the results of a study in Thursday's journal Science.

"We're not as unique as we would like to think," said lead author Erica van de Waal, of the University of St. Andrews in Scotland. "We can find many of the roots of our behaviors in animals."

For her study, 109 vervet monkeys living in groups in the wild were given a choice of food tinted pink or blue by the researchers. One color for each group was tainted with aloe to give it a harmless yucky flavor. After a few meals, the food was no longer tainted, but the monkeys still wouldn't eat the color they figured was bad.

But that changed when some of them tried to fit in with a new group of monkeys. Blue-food eaters instantly switch when they moved to an area full of pink-food eaters, even though they shunned pink food before. Pink eaters also changed when they moved to a blue-food area.

The social pressure may be like "teenagers with a desperate need to be just like the other guys," said co-author Andrew Whiten, also of St. Andrews. Or it could be that the monkeys are learning to adapt to local custom — think restaurant reviews or the old saying "when in Rome, do as the Romans do," he said.

Written By: AP
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  1. I think the same thing is happening to atheists, causing them to have to qualify their statements with “even though I’m an atheist” before making a comment that there is anything remotely positive about religion.

  2. In reply to #1 by adiroth:

    I think the same thing is happening to atheists, causing them to have to qualify their statements with “even though I’m an atheist” before making a comment that there is anything remotely positive about religion.

    “No true atheist”…. 😉

  3. Van de Waal said it could be the eat-what-locals-eat idea, but she favors the social conformity, peer pressure concept. She figures the other males were trying to get in good with females, while the dominant male acted as “if he’s already in charge, why does he need to do like the others.”

    Just because you favor an idea doesn’t make it true.
    More testing needed to validate. Sounds nice though.

  4. In reply to #3 by ApexDisorder:

    I don’t think that Van de Waal would argue with you. Regarding the alpha male Lekker, she told Scientific American

    “It’s really quite puzzling……….The sample size is one. Maybe he’s just a stupid male that doesn’t look at what the other group members are doing…….In order to know whether this is instead related to social conformity we’d need to have plenty more cases like Lekker to say, when you’re dominant you don’t care.

  5. Of the 10 migrating males, nine instantly ate what everyone else ate. The only hold out was an alpha male, who stuck to his previous diet.


  6. I was wondering about the survival value of trusting peers more than yourself. In humans this can backfire. If for example you are allergic to wheat, you might keep eating it despite evidence it is harming you, because your peers think it is fine.

  7. I would like to agree with everything everyone else has said on this thread, because I fear they won’t like me unless I do.

  8. Here’s a follow on from a Scientific American Blog

    We are starting to get reliable data that might be used as the basis of a science of memes. Its about time this idea came in out of the cold and was validated or properly rejected. My expectation is that it can be shown to be scientifically valid in a limited form, at least, (the copying of mechanical skills and expressive gestures say).

    One of the aspects to establish early on is “who to copy?”. What are signifiers of a copyable person or action? Susan Blackmore thought being visibly successful as an individual resulted in being copied The alpha male here though was not copied, nor did he copy. Fascinating stuff. We know in human culture that authority overrides common sense in kids to deliver reliable copying-

    Monthly Victoria Horner link

    Thanks for getting it put up, Roedy.

  9. “Monkeys succumb to peer pressure”

    “Detroit-area Catholic leaders urge gay marriage supporters to skip”

    The news page has these items side by side.

    I think it would look better if the photos were swapped.

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