Thursday, April 19

Evolution of Prejudice: Research reveals beginnings of racism in monkeys

 Us and them. Right and wrong. Familiar and foreign. We have a strong tendency to pigeonhole people and to be prejudiced towards others based on their group affiliations, race, ethnic origin, religious beliefs and other factors. And we do not know why is that so. Psychologists have long known that many of our prejudices operate automatically, but why are we prone to prejudice in the first place? Well, new research, using monkeys, suggests that the roots of prejudice lie deep in our evolutionary past.

 Yale graduate student Neha Mahajan and a team of psychologists went to the uninhabited Puerto Rico island of Cayo Santiago, also known as "Monkey Island", to study the behaviour of rhesus monkeys. Because like humans, rhesus monkeys live in groups and form social bonds.
 To see whether monkeys distinguish between insiders (part of the group) and outsiders (part of another group), the researchers measured the amount of time the monkeys stared at photographed face of an insider versus the outsider monkey. Across several experiments, the researchers found that the monkeys stared longer at the faces of outsiders suggesting that they were more wary.  

 To make sure that monkeys did not stare longer at the faces of outsiders out of simple curiosity, the team of psychologists paired familiar outsider faces (monkeys that had recently left the group) with monkeys which had recently joined. Even though in this test the monkeys were more familiar with the faces of the outsiders than they were with the faces of the insiders, they continued to stare longer at the faces of the outsiders.
 These tests show that monkeys clearly are making distinctions based on group affiliations.

 In order to find out whether the animals also had negative feelings towards the outsiders or not, Mahajan and her colleagues paired the photos of insider and outsider monkeys with either good things, such as fruits, or bad things, such as spiders. When a photo of an insiders face was paired with a fruit, or a photo of an outsiders face was paired with a spider, the monkeys lost interest fast. However, when a photo of an insiders face was paired with a spider, the monkeys looked longer. The researches assumed that the monkeys found it confusing when something good was paired with something bad. 

 This research is believed to suggest that monkeys do not only distinguish between insiders and outsiders, but they also associate insiders with good things and outsiders with bad things. And that overall, the results of this research support an evolutionary basis of prejudice.


Ray said...

This article was interesting to read, however I still think it takes much more faith to believe that we are prejudice or any other evil thing because of evolutionary means rather than believe that biblical account and that we are inherently evil. I own a small business in Miami florida working as an ADT Security Dealer and see prejudice and all sorts of evil everywhere everyday. And never think that its caused by evolution

Thomas said...

The suggestion could also be made that the monkeys were being protective from the advancements of the outsiders which may have been seen by them as intrusive. They would naturally protect their young and question any advancements in territory by the outsider and become combative if the outsider did not heed the warnings of the tribe.