What Capuchin Monkeys Can Tell Us About The Great Resignation?

Lessons from Capuchin monkeys on Unequal Pay

Afroz Chakure
3 min readJun 4, 2022
Image by Nelson Brazys Nelson from Pixabay

Adam Smith famous Scottish economist and philosopher who is considered a pioneer of political economy famously stated that

“A man must always live by his work, and his wages must be at least sufficient to maintain him,” and, “When the regulation, therefore, is in favor of the workmen, it is always just and equitable”

About the experiment

The experiment setup involved two monkeys who have lived together and known each other locked inside a cage. The researcher rewards both monkeys with a slice of cucumber for every stone returned by them.

Initially, it was found that a monkey would happily hand over the stone for a cucumber slice. But this changed when the experimenters changed the reward for the second monkey from Cucumber to Grapes.

As soon as the first monkey saw this change he expected his reward to change as well. On not receiving the Grape as his reward, he was quick to throw the Cucumber slice right at the experimenter.

Again when the experimenter asked for the stone from the first monkey, he was quick to check the stone by hitting it on the cage wall and then handing it over. Still, he was given a cucumber slice as his reward. He was quick to throw it out and begins shaking the cage as if wanting to come out.

Parallels from the experiment

We all have been paid unequally at some point in our lives, the experiment is a clear indication of what some of us feel when we are not paid equally as some of our peers.

It is one of the reasons why HRs tell their employees not to disclose their salary. But let us be honest here, it is in favor of your employer to keep you underpaid.

Photo by Sharon McCutcheon on Unsplash

A recently leaked spreadsheet from Microsoft revealed that a lot of their employees were not being paid as lucratively as some of their peers.

A better annual salary than your peers could be due to many reasons apart from your actual work. Things like good negotiation skills, the ability of your project to pay you, and the number of senior members in your team will greatly impact the compensation you receive.


Such experiments tell you about fairness and equality of pay in work. Just like Capuchins reject unequal pay, humans too don’t like to be paid unequally.

Although knowing this fallacy won’t change much, it is always better to know a little more than to be ignorant.

This brain of ours has been developed over millions of years to recognize fairness just like monkeys and if something doesn’t satisfy our internal desire of what equality feels like, we are quick to leave everything and search for better avenues.