Do not grab the banana!

19 Oct

This was the basis of an experiment conducted in the mid-1960s. Here’s how it worked: A banana has been placed at the top of a ladder in the middle of a cage in which live 5 monkeys, if any one monkey tried to grab the banana, all five monkeys would be sprayed by cold water. Monkeys do not like cold water and learned quickly to avoid the banana.

Then the (quite sadistic) scientists replaced one of the monkeys and things got very very interesting.

Since this new monkey had never been sprayed, guess what? Yes, of course, he immediately went for the banana (so tempting a banana!). Instantly, the others pull it down and beat it up. After several beatings, the new monkey learned never to go up the ladder, even though there was no evident reason not to, aside from the beatings. The lesson was crystal clear: the banana was off limits.

The second monkey was substituted and the same occurred. The first monkey participated in the beating of the second monkey. A third monkey was changed and the same was repeated. The fourth monkey was changed, resulting in the same, before the fifth was finally replaced as well.

What was left was a group of five monkeys that – without ever having received a cold shower – continued to beat up any monkey who attempted to climb the ladder.

If it was possible to ask the monkeys why they beat up on all those who attempted to climb the ladder, their most likely answer would be “I don’t know. It’s just how things are done around here.”

Does that sound at all familiar?

In fact, this experiment is an urban legend, a fable inspired by the real work of G. R. Stephenson on rhesus monkeys and other experiments made with chimpanzees, but nevertheless it is a good representation of what is  “social pressure” and moreover what has contributed to the construction of our social behaviors and in the end of our civilizations.

Now imagine that you want to make the monkeys grab the banana…

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