Hello Etsy Recap: "Overcoming Your Monkey Mind" by Dr. Laurie Santos - Really!

In my last recap of Hello Etsy, we discussed the very inspiring and urgent economic presentation of Stewart Wallis of the New Economics Foundation.  After his 30-minute discussion, he was followed by Dr. Laurie Santos, Director of Comparative Cognition Laboratory and Associate Professor in the Department of Psychology at Yale University.  Dr. Santos studies why humans repeatedly make the same irrational decisions.

Dr. Santos started the presentation by sharing her reasons for exploring this topic:

  • Origins that make people tick
  • Understand history
  • Understand our constraints

or put in another way, "If you put animals in the same situations as humans, would they make the same things over and over?" 

Using our closest animal counterparts, she conducts research on monkeys to see how their behavior and our own irrational behavior are linked.  Using recent examples such as the financial collapse, climate change, and other global issues we have faced in the last five years and are still facing, she shared with us that while research shows that while monkeys do make many of the same economic decision biases as humans, humans do have some that are totally unique to us.    

Below is a video of a TED talk that Dr. Santos gave three years ago, back in July 2010 that discusses her study of the monkeys with money that they introduced to them for them to use to purchase food at a market.  At around the 7:05 mark in the video, she shares a clip of research in action. When she shared the clip with the attendees, we erupted in laughter, but mostly out of understanding.  Money can bring out the worst in us as well as monkeys, even though they had never had such exposure.

Our key difference is how we share.  We have been sharing what is in our heads for sharings sake forever and no other animal does this. As an example, she mentioned the story of William Henry Fox Talbotthe British inventor known for inventing the photographic negative.

He invented his tool because of a scene he attempted to replicate via pencil and paper while on his honeymoon. His dislike of his sketch led him to develop what became the photographic negative and gave way to what we know as photography.  This need to share and create is what generates new technologies, like Etsy, Facebook, or even Instagram as a way to spontaneously share.

Dr. Santos comes to the conclusion that while we are different, what links us similarly is genetic evolution. The reason that our monkey counterparts master the art of using money and make the same mistakes that we do, even with little training is really a part of how we evolved.  And this means that it is really hard to overcome, which is why we react more risky when we're faced with our biases.

At this point she mentioned climate change by way of saying it is why even though our summers are getting hotter, our ice is melting, our natural disasters are more, we don't believe or do anything about it because it's relative. It is happening, but it's not happening to us. Our biases are different because we're not experiencing loss aversion (which we hate!), directly. Climate change for many is not like watching our stock market crash or having your checking account in the red, and therefore we can avoid it and put it off for the future.

The positive in all of this, is that we are changeable creatures. We are incredibly inspirational and like William Henry Fox Talbot, our need to share and trust, even with making the same mistakes again and again and again, allows us to find ways to break from our biases and do good things. 

I know you're wondering how does this have anything to do with Etsy? 

The answer is simple - we have still a long way to go to evolve, but at this point, and with tools like Etsy, we are connecting in good (and bad) ways unlike ever before and we can continue to create goods, technologies, and share our stories and experiences as a means to inspire those to come.  Etsy is doing that, and you are too, as part of the global Etsy community.

Writing this post today made me remember my own financial promises to myself during her presentation. It was easy to listen to her and think of the wealthy that have lost money, but I could see where my own biases come into play and how on a daily basis I make decisions that are risky when I shouldn't.  It's all about perspective after all. I wish you all better choices, continued evolution, and greater sharing with those you know and love.

As always, please leave your thoughts in the comments. I'd love to hear your thoughts on Dr. Santo's thought provoking research.  Until next time!