June 8, 2009

Gorillas offer hints at human behaviors

Researchers at the Franklin Park Zoo say they have been studying gorillas at the Boston zoo to gain insights into human economic behavior.

Harvard University graduate student Katherine McAuliffe said by watching the gorillas at the zoo's tropical forest exhibit, researchers hope to learn the origins of human behaviors in relation to risk-taking, gratification and rewards, The Boston Globe said Monday.

Right now, we're focusing on what we're calling gorilla economics, McAuliffe said. What sort of ecological context might select for certain kinds of decision-making?

As part of the study, gorillas at the site have been offered colored dowels that can act like money, allowing the animal to trade it for food.

Dan Ariely, a Duke University behavioral economics professor involved in the study, told the Globe the study tests how hard the gorillas will work for the tokens and what decisions they make once in possession of the goods.

If we can see what they do well and what they don't do well, we can understand some of our behaviors, Ariely said. The interesting question for me is why are we as human beings so risk-averse -- what has happened to us that we're so afraid of risk?