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To the “yes-people…”

Researchers working with capuchin monkeys have found that some of the behavior of “yes-men” and “yes-women” (and perhaps most of the rest of us) :-) is firmly rooted in primate biology.

NIH researchers working with two Italian institutions found that “if one person imitates what a monkey does and the other person does not imitate, the monkey prefers to spend more time in front of the person that imitated them,” according to Dr. Annika Paukner at the NIH offices in Poolesville, MD. Researchers have known for a long time that humans prefer to interact with others who act like themselves, and that people have a subconscious tendency to imitate others. (Note added August 15, 2009: This tendency may also explain why my brothers and I heard the folk expression “Monkey SEE – monkey DO!” so much from our parents while we were growing up!)

The new study shows that the tendency is more than just a human trait. According to Dr Paukner, “It’s something that’s quite old and something very, very basic. It’s not just for us sophisticated humans.”

I don’t know. I guess that I’ve never met a sophisticated human. :-)

Monkeys spent more time interacting with the imitators and readily accepted food and trinkets from the humans who imitated them, even when the non-imitators offered the monkeys the same rewards. (Note added August 15, 2009: Hmmmm… This may explain why doing your JOB well is NOT ENOUGH! :-) )

One of my memories from graduate school is the advice of a visiting Nobel laureate fruit fly geneticist, who told the lecture hall, “Don’t take yourself too seriously; you are only your DNA‘s attempt to find out whether it’s worthwhile to go on!” :-)

Sometimes, when a bad driver cuts me off, I try to imagine the driver as one of our closest relatives, a chimpanzee, dressed up as the driver. (C’mon, play along…. :-) ) I find that it breaks the tension! :-) The same substitution works for other social situations (Imagine golfers! Imagine a Senate Hearing! :-) ) and is probably biologically accurate (in terms of primate behavior) a lot of the time…. :-)

(Note added later, August 14, 2009: This may somehow be related to the dating success of a post-doc I knew who would knuckle-walk up to a table of women in a bar doing his “Gorgon the Gorilla” act….) :-)

-Bill at Cheshire Cat Photo™

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