Fun-loving cheeky monkeys may give the impression that they are not burdened by much. But, according to new research, they do in fact feel the same regrets as we do - at least when they are playing the game rock-paper-scissors. - The Daily Mail (London), May 26, 2011
A study conducted by Yale University researchers Daeyeol Lee and Hiroshi Abe, published in the May 26 issue of the journal Neuron, has revealed that monkeys feel regret over the choices they make in rock-paper-scissors. This makes them pretty much unique in the animal kingdom, and leads some experts to suggest it's possibly unwise to play the game with monkeys.
"I think they take it way too seriously," one of the scientists observed, off the record. "I've seen a monkey with everything going for him go off on a bender after losing a game of rock-paper-scissors and just spiral downwards from there. A monkey approaches me with his hand out now, and I reach straight for a deck of cards. It's just too painful to watch. I'm always like, 'Hey, little dude, it's only a game.' But then they always bite me."
The results have led some in the monkey-research community to demand that the line of inquiry be suspended, because sore-loser monkeys are, it has been concluded, really depressing and occasionally dangerous. But other researchers have reported that the vast majority of humans will also bite anyone who calls them "little dude." These scientists are asking for a deeper and more specific line of inquiry.
"Periodically I get the sense that it's not so much the losing that bothers the little du … I mean, the monkeys," explained Patricia Rowan, of Cardiff University, looking around nervously. "So much as it's the rules of rock-paper-scissors."
Her team has made several attempts to replicate the initial study's findings: "Sometimes, if I pick 'paper' and the monkey picks 'rock' - so I win and therefore don't give him a food reward - the monkey will express extreme, even violent regret. One monkey just kept rolling his eyes at me and then began banging the side of his head with his fist slowly. I took detailed notes of the event. But later, when I returned to the lab, I found that a group of research monkeys had broken free from their cages and destroyed all of our paper notes. Apparently using rocks.
"That's right. We came back and found all of the monkeys sitting in their cages, happily engrossed in their usual games of chess and backgammon, but there was shredded paper and conspicuously placed, perfectly intact rocks everywhere.
"Another time," Dr. Rowan added, "I played 'rock' and one of our more senior monkeys played 'scissors' - I won, so naturally I refused to give him his treat, because those are the rules. And I swear to god he looked me right in the eye and signed at me, 'Oh, come on! What if these are really good scissors? Did you ever consider that? Do you have any idea how hard it'd be to smash a really high-quality pair of scissors with a rock? It would take forever and your fingers would get all bruised. Maybe when you play you're picturing some pathetic little nail scissors or, what, needlepointing scissors?' he continued, grabbing his treat angrily from the special Scientist Treat Bowl that I got in grad school. 'But I'm playing with something steel and Swiss, woman, you got that?' "
Chris Edwards, also of Cardiff, explained further: "We're wondering if we're not dealing with something more complex than monkeys having the ability to imagine alternative outcomes to their non-productive behaviours," he told Michael Finn, a science writer with the journal Science Writing. "Though that does show more cognitive reasoning than the jackass who calls my cell every day asking to speak to 'Lucinda' possesses.
"Generally," Dr. Edwards went on, "the subjects demonstrate little interest in playing rock-paper-scissors with me, for long periods of time, even when I'm really lonely. Super-lonely, and there's nothing on TV. More research is needed. Way more. Say, what are you doing right now? What? What? You're staring at my hand, aren't you? Look, I just got bit a few times, that's all. No big deal. My left hand is still good. Come on, little dude, just a quick one. Hey! Ouch! That hurt! I'd love to know how much you're going to regret that."