Young Male Monkeys Swayed By Peer Pressure Too

Peer pressure isn't a concern only among teenagers. Researchers have found that monkeys want to fit in with others in their group too, and they'll modify their behavior for a few new friends.

The research was done by Dr. Erica van de Waal and Professor Andrew Whiten of the University of St Andrews, along with Christèle Borgeaud of the University of Neuchâtel.

In the study, 109 male vervet monkeys in living in groups in South Africa were given a choice of food that was colored pink or blue by the researchers. Either the pink or blue food item was given a bad taste so the animals would develop an affinity for one color. When neither the pink nor blue food was given a bad taste, the monkeys still would only eat the color they had first preferred.

However, things quickly changed when some of the the monkeys were put in groups with those who preferred another color of food. Blue-food eaters instantly switched when they were moved to an area full of pink-food eaters, even though they had shunned pink food before. The same happened to pink-food eaters when they moved into a predominantly blue-food-eating territory.

" 'When in Rome, do as the Romans do'. Our findings suggest that a willingness to conform to what all those around you are doing when you visit a different culture is a disposition shared with other primates," said Dr. Whiten in a press release.

The researchers were actually trying to study the relationship between food preferences between mother and child, when they stumbled on the peer pressure study.

"The males' fickleness is certainly a striking discovery. At first sight their willingness to conform to local norms may seem a rather mindless response — but after all, it's how we humans often behave when we visit different cultures. It may make sense in nature, where the knowledge of the locals is often the best guide to what are the optimal behaviors in their environment, so copying them may actually make a lot of sense," Dr. Whiten said.

Interestingly, the only monkey that didn't conform to a change in diet when placed in a new group was an older male who was a leader in his group.

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