Laurie Santos, a researcher in cognitive psychology, had the fun idea to create the first financial market for some cute little monkeys, the Capuchin. Their currency, the Token, is used to buy food from different sellers, who are more or less honest, and whose sales strategies differ.

It turns out that Capuchin monkeys are as gifted as humans when it comes to managing their money. They are looking for good value for their money and watch out for special offers. They also are as talented as us at spending money like there's no tomorrow and at spontaneously stealing their fellows and the sellers (which wasn't expect by the experimenters!).

This experiment has highlighted two biases in our cousin, that were considered, until now, specific to human:

• the fear of loss: loss frightens us so much that we are willing to go to great lengths to avoid it, even at the price of higher risk to lose everything.

• emotive irrationality: we are naturally more likely to make emotional than rational choice.

When one becomes aware of the huge impacts of these two limits on our abilities to make thoughtful choices, one is less surprised by the financial crises as they merely materialize some old primary strategies we carry since the dawn of time. Those strategies probably helped us survive, but in the complexity of the world we live in today, they play tricks on us.

These limits are certainly rooted in our nature, but we can reduce their impact on our lives and our societies and maybe overcome then, if we learn to accept them.

 


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