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Why Do We Turn Freaky When It Comes to Our Possesions?
« on: October 11, 2007, 01:58:25 AM »

A piece of crap, once it's yours it's yours and people can often behave like freaks when it comes to their personal little belongings. Now, the same odd behavior has been found in chimps, explaining more the way the human mind works.

An old experiment made on college students showed that once offered either a coffee mug or a chocolate bar, they have no real preference for either. But when randomly offered either the mugs or the chocolate, they
strongly choose keeping their new possession than exchanging it for the other.

This seemingly irrational behavior, called the "endowment effect", has been checked now by the team led by primatologist Sarah Brosnan at Georgia State University on chimpanzees, our closest living relatives.

The chimps received frozen juice bars and tubes of peanut butter and at the beginning, they discovered the chimps approximately preferred either. But when they received the peanut butter, about 80 % of them wanted to keep it rather than trading it off for a juice bar. Also, when offered juice bars, 60 % of the individuals chose to keep them than exchanging the item.

"It is really exciting to see a behavior that has often been considered irrational in humans is also present in chimpanzees," Brosnan told LiveScience.

"This helps us put the evolution of human behavior in perspective and may help us to understand why such behaviors would have evolved in the first place."

But unlike in humans, the chimps do not display the "endowment effect" in the case of non-foods, like rubber bones and knotted ropes.

"The fact that this strange effect apparently applies only for food and not other items suggests it developed to help aid survival. Giving up something that could help with survival or reproduction may have been so risky that it wasn't worth doing even if there was the potential for something better. This was probably true for humans until very recently — and may still be today in some situations — explaining why we still show the effect." said Brosnan.

This trade behavior in chimps explains "more about the social conditions our last common ancestor lived in and, hence, ourselves," Brosnan said.

When it comes to laws linked to property, these discoveries point that "we have evolved a strong bias against letting go of our property, so in law it is important to take this in to consideration and put mechanisms in place to ameliorate it."


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