Making Choices in a Monkey Economy



Laurie Santos set up a Monkey Marketplace in a lab to see if, by studying monkey financial behavior, they could find out whether it's possible to change human financial behavior.


One thing Laurie Santos found is that in the Monkey Market, the monkeys they will steal from each other and the human salesmen whenever they get the chance.

What are some ways we try to deal with the problem of the temptation to steal?
How do we currently design our human environment to deal with this problem?

A friend once said that he thinks stealing is the worst crime ever, because it causes so much inconvenience in the world, on so many levels. How bad is stealing things on your own moral compass?


Back to the video, she then asked us two thought experiment questions.
Thought experiment one:
So imagine that right now I handed each and every one of you a thousand U.S. dollars -- so 10 crisp hundred dollar bills.
And then you get a choice: you can either be risky, in which case I'm going to flip a coin. If it comes up heads, you're going to get a thousand dollars more. If it comes up tails, you get nothing. So it's a chance to get more, but it's pretty risky. Your other option is a bit safe. Your just going to get some money for sure. I'm just going to give you 500 bucks.

What would you choose?

Laurie Santos says most people think in relative terms: will I get more or less?
She says it's easier than to think in absolute terms: how much is this ultimately going to be?
Do you think this is true for you? Is this true for most people you know?


Now, here's another thought experiment. Imagine that I give each and every one of you 2,000 dollars -- 20 crisp hundred dollar bills. Now you can buy double to stuff you were going to get before. And now imagine that I have you make another choice But this time, it's a little bit worse. Now, you're going to be deciding how you're going to lose money, but you're going to get the same choice. You can either take a risky loss -- so I'll flip a coin. If it comes up heads, you're going to actually lose a lot. If it comes up tails, you lose nothing, you're fine, get to keep the whole thing -- or you could play it safe, which means you have to reach back into your wallet and give me five of those $100 bills, for certain.

What would you choose?

Laurie Santos says, when humans are in a 'loss' mindset, we actually become more risky. We're more likely to gamble when we think we're losing money.
Is this true for you? Is this true for most people you know?


Laurie Santos then says, that these behaviors have been around for 35 million years. Now, she doesn't get into this at all, but evolutionarily, when behaviors persist, it's because there's benefit in these behaviors.

What benefit might be in these behaviours?

Do you think that human behaviour is unchangable, that we're forever monkeys? Meaning, do you think that we can never actually behave according to our moral systems?

Do you agree with Laurie Santos, that perhaps the problem is not that we do these things that we agree are bad, but that our environment is designed wrong?

If it's just the environment that has to be changed, let's go back to the stealing question:
What kind of environments make it easy to steal?
What kind of environments make it hard to steal?
What kind of environments make you feel bad to steal?
What kind of environments make it seem like it's no big deal or even okay to steal?

Do you think that just manipulating the environment will change people's behaviours?

Thinking about the choice experiments that Sheena Iyengar talked about in the video last time.
What were some of the choice experiments she did?
What environmental factors affected how people chose?

So, if it's about environment, where might our environment be designed wrong, where we're getting bad results from these behaviors instead of good results?

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