A roundup of my favorite Primate sTORIES

By Roger An 10/18/2016


I'm a big fan of primatology: the scientific study of primates.  I wanted to do a roundup of my favorite books, articles, podcasts, and videos on primates.

One of my favorites books on the subject is:  'A Primate's Memoir' by Robert Sapolsky, which is about how baboon hierarchy works, and how baboons get stressed out in the same way humans do.  'Radiolab' has an episode that follows up what happened to the peaceful baboon troop that Sapolsky followed.  The 'Radiolab' podcast ep is titled: New Normal.

Another excellent book about primates is 'Bonobo: The Forgotten Ape' by Frans de Waal, which examines a remarkable primate that used to be known as a Pygmy Chimpanzee. Scientists then realized that bonobos were a distinct species, and very different than chimpanzees.  Chimpanzees are dominated by violent Machiavellian males, while bonobos are female-centered, egalitarian, and creative about sex and resolving conflict.

Intersecting with the primate and art worlds is 'Monkey Portraits' by Jill Greenberg, which is a fantastic collection of primate photography that captures very human-like emotions expressed by our hairier cousins.  When I'm vexed by human problems like bad bosses, frustrating social interactions, or money headaches, I find myself thinking about these primate narratives, and how ape-like our problems are, especially in regards to the hierarchy detailed in Sapolsky's  'A Primate's Memoir.'

I think all of those books are a great background, to one of the most intriguing primate studies about monkeys and money.  Yale scientists taught capuchins how to use money, and here is a NY Times Magazine article on it, titled: "Monkey Business."

That article is written by the Freakonomics team, which is one of my favorite podcasts, and they've got a great live episode explaining the subject: The Monkey Economy. 

There is also a very good Mental Floss article on the study, titled: "What monkeys can teach you about money."

The primate study detailed in the links above, goes over the Ultimatum game, which is an economic experiment where a proposer receives a sum of money and proposes how to divide the sum between the proposer, and the responder.  The responder choose to accept or reject the proposal based on the proposer's fairness.

The contrast of how monkeys respond to the Ultimatum game versus human adults and babies is fascinating.  You can read more about the Ultimatum game at this Wikipedia link.

The Monkey Money Experiment tells me that if primate's have an innate sense of fairness when splitting money, then we should do more to advocate that humans get their fair share when laboring for ultra-wealthy corporations.

I wanted to add an interesting note: I had heard that recent versions of Photoshop won't let you photoedit money.  [Here's an interesting article about Canadians defacing their money in tribute to Star Trek.]  When I tried to Photoshop some twenty dollar bills into that first capuchin photo up above, it didn't work.  I opted for Monopoly money instead!

If you find anything fascinating about primates, I think you'll find all these books and articles to be intellectually stimulating, philosophical, and humorous to read.

If you'd like to support this site, please purchase these books through these Amazon referral links below or to the side!

Monkey Portraits
By Jill Greenberg
Bonobo: The Forgotten Ape
By Frans de Waal, Frans Lanting