This is a story that many of us have heard in conversations about the acceptance of standards by the masses.
An apparently simple experiment, with a small group of monkeys that are in a cage and a few bananas that they could try to reach .
The monkey, ladder and banana experiment
As in almost all research into animal behaviour, the experiment starts with a cage. Inside it, five healthy monkeys are placed and, in the centre of the room, a staircase with bananas at its highest point.
As expected, the monkeys soon start climbing the ladder to reach the food . However, their plan is interrupted each time by an unpleasant surprise: every time a monkey climbs the steps, the researchers spray the other primates with cold water.
This means that every attempt to gain access to the bananas is transformed into a major reprimand from the monkeys towards the individual who tries: shouting, hitting, biting… anything goes to make anyone else have a similar occurrence. These practices were quite effective: After a while, no monkey tried to take the bananas, despite the temptation to eat them . But the interesting part of the example comes later.
Introducing some changes
At this point, the researchers take one monkey out of the cage and put another one in its place. This “rookie” sees the bananas on top of the ladder and, since he has not been able to catch up on what happens to those who try to do something, he receives the blows and cries of the others: the fear of cold water is still present. This monkey does not understand the reason for this punishment, since he has not been able to witness the cold water falling, but after a few attempts he concludes, simply, that trying to reach the bananas is not a good idea.
Once this is done, the researchers replace one of the monkeys with a new one. This newcomer does the same thing as the first one when he sees the bananas and the ladder, and the response of the rest is the same: punishment. However, on this occasion the first new monkey also participates in the reprimand .
From that point on, the researchers replace all the monkeys until none of the 5 monkeys remaining in the cage have ever witnessed the fall of the icy water. When someone tries to climb up the ladder, these animals still react with the same violence as the five monkeys at the beginning.
The fable of obedience to rules
This story is about the realization of an experiment, but, although its setting has to do with what happens in some psychology and zoology laboratories, this research does not exist as such: it has not been carried out and, therefore, there is no conclusion with scientific value that can be drawn from it .
However, that does not mean that the story is not worth a fable. The story of the monkeys, the bananas and the ladder is an example of blind obedience to rules by a group .
The first five monkeys had an objective basis for not wanting anyone to climb the ladder: every time they did, they were punished. However, the other monkeys obeyed the rules without having any reason to do so . And not only did they obey them, but they perpetuated them through their behaviour. The rule of the prohibition of climbing the ladder, despite its absurdity, had become part of their lives, to the point where they invested time and effort in making it continue to exist. Can the same be said of the rules that we human beings choose to reproduce through our actions?