5 Monkeys Experiment

You may have heard of the “5 monkeys experiment.”  It is called by several different names: the 5 monkey experiment, the monkeys in a cage experiment, the monkeys and social control experiment, etc.  It is a cleverly designed experiment, though ethically questionable, which tests the influence of groupthink and tradition.  The following video is an animated retelling of the experiment and its results.

WARNING: The following video may contain shocking or disturbing images (mainly just at the end). Viewer discretion is advised.

5 Monkeys Experiment

The experiment is extremely telling and says a lot about how we come to believe what we are told, even without a full explanation for why.

The Problem with the Experiment

If you are familiar with the 5 monkeys experiment, you may wonder just where it comes from.  Who conducted this research, where, and when?

In truth, many people have searched unsuccessfully for the true source of the research (including me!).  The 5 monkeys experiment is widely cited; however, no source is ever given.  The experiment is sometimes misattributed to Harry Harlow, who did indeed perform controversial studies on monkeys; however, no accurate source has been listed.

To me, this seems to suggest that the entire 5 monkeys experiment is a hoax.  Especially in the age of information, such a pivotal experiment would be widely cited in scientific journals, discussions, and experiments.  However, no reputable source ever uses the 5 monkeys experiment as a reference.

The whole thing was probably cleverly invented by a writer wanting to illustrate how corporate policies are often blindly enforced.  The writer himself may have passed it off as scientific research; however, it could just as easily been a reader, who mistook the fiction for fact.  And judging by the harsh criticism of corporate policy that is almost always tagged as a “moral of the story,” it seems even more likely that someone dreamed this scenario up in order to prove a specific point.

In any case, I think it is hilarious that an experiment whose goal is to point out how people will blindly believe what they are told is repeatedly referenced as fact without a proper source.

This is not meant to be a criticism either, since I am also guilty of telling others about the 5 moneys experiment under the impression that it was an actual scientific study.  To be fair, it is quite possible that, were the 5 monkeys experiment actually conducted, the same events would unfold as told in the story.  It is also true, as demonstrated by the spread of this very study as fact, that humans are often guilty of blindly following a mindset that is not backed-up or flawed.

More food for thought.

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4 Responses to “5 Monkeys Experiment”

  1. joe blogs says:

    Post featured in Tradition (part 2 in a short series of thoughts about god)

  2. [...] Dr Tuvia Melamed offers a more jaundiced view: [...]

  3. Carl says:

    I have searched for this off and on since 2006. The “Five” monkey’s is likely a parable or story which is based on some real experiments. Most likely:
    Stephenson, G. R. (1967). Cultural acquisition of a specific learned response among rhesus monkeys. In: Starek, D., Schneider, R., and Kuhn, H. J. (eds.), Progress in Primatology, Stuttgart: Fischer, pp. 279-288
    “Unfortunately, training and testing were not carried out using a discrimination procedure so the nature of the transmitted information cannot be determined, but the data are of considerable interest.”

    In the light of Stanley Milgrams and Martin Seligman’s work ethical standards would now make the “five monkey’s” experiment impossible to replicate. Certainly people in the 1960′s were conducting experiments like this, and it is believeable that non-human species could and would teach one another to avoid unpleasant consequences.

    I concur that it did not happen as described, but disagree that it rises to the level of a hoax. Likely it is an embellished synthesis of research which is at it’s root has a yet to be disproven hypothesis, and was orginally created for the purpose of humor

  4. abe3 says:

    Any time a story promotes an idea that people want to hear, it will never die out. It is more of a parable as far as I can tell. Someone ought to try to duplicate this experiment with 5 or more and with other primates or controls. Then see if it is repeatable.

    I am still looking for the proof of this experiment.

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