Monkeys understand value better than humans because they aren't fooled by expensive brands

Lynsey Barber
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Everyone likes to think they’re good at grabbing a bargain and finding the best deals (if Black Friday’s anything to go by, anyway), but new research shows there may be a better species of bargain-hunter in town.

Monkeys understand value better than humans because they know a higher price doesn’t always mean better, whereas people are distracted by the price tag.

In studies of humans, using items from wine to painkillers, we almost always choose the highest priced item when asked to choose a product without having to pay.

Surprisingly, our close primate cousins are also able to understand different pricing in a similar way to us. Researchers ran a study using food and when tested on which food item they chose if they didn't have to pay, monkeys did not tend to choose the highest priced item like humans did.

“We know that capuchin monkeys share a number of our own economic biases. Our previous work has shown that monkeys are loss-averse, irrational when it comes to dealing with risk, and even prone to rationalising their own decisions, just like humans,” said Laurie Santos, a psychologist at Yale University and senior author of the study. “But this is one of the first domains we’ve tested in which monkeys show more rational behaviour than humans do.”

One likely cause of humans associating cost with quality is our experience of markets - our knowledge of markets tells us a more expensive brand will be better than the same product at a cheaper price - even if that’s not the case. Or it could be down to cognitive mechanisms specific to humans: the next step for researchers will be to identify the cause.

There’s no fooling monkeys though. We can only conclude they are a better shopping chaperone than your BFF.