Researchers find cognitive bias in monkeys

I love it when scientists find human characteristics in monkeys. I’m not sure if that’s because it’s fun to anthropomorphise or because it tells us that those characteristics are embedded deeply in our DNA. Probably both.

Perhaps the best known example is that monkeys have a keen sense of fairness, many studies have now shown that they get upset if rewards for tasks are not equal (one here).

The new news today is that monkeys share the human predisposition to see patterns where none exist – the clustering illusion. Monkeys suffer from cognitive bias just as we do.

This tells us why cognitive biases are so hard for people to overcome and reminds us that we should factor them into our business plans. Here are a couple of examples:

  • Once someone is invested in a service the sunk cost fallacy will make them hard to shift/easier to retain – upshot: encourage customers to invest time/money/reputation in your service
  • Due to the clustering illusion people will irrationally expect winning streaks to persist – upshot: raise money when you have momentum
  • Once someone’s mind is made up the confirmation bias makes it hard to change – upshot: invest heavily in making a good first impression