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Who're You Calling a Dumb Ape?

The capuchin monkeys that Dr. Laurie Santos and her research team work with are "clever—sometimes more clever than we are." Not only do they sometimes get the better of humans, they also yield a font of insights into the evolutionary origins of human psychological phenomena—including, as Santos explains in her Big Think interview, the loss aversion and greed that caused the global financial meltdown.

According to the Yale psychologist's studies, monkeys trained to use a form of currency display strikingly rational economic (monkeynomic?) behavior. It also turns out that, like humans, monkeys are "very good cheats and thieves": a sign that "theory of mind" (the ability to understand and predict the mental states of others) may originally have evolved in higher primates as a means of outcompeting rivals. Still, there's at least one feature of human behavior that seems to separate us from the apes: our tendency to nudge others—whether literally or via hyperlink—and say, "Hey, look at this cool thing!"

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