4. Remember that Behavior is Often Simplistic
When wondering why people behave the way they do for data analysis, it’s probably smart to remember that, at our core, we are just slightly evolved animals.
Dubner’s final tale discussed a study conducted at Yale University by an economist to see how people use currency; specifically, why they save and why they spend.
Training capuchin monkeys to use metal washers as currency over the course of months, the study aimed to see if monkeys used the currency to buy certain foods they liked over others, and whether doubling the price of these much-loved foods would sway the monkeys from purchasing them.
What the researchers didn’t predict was the monkeys use of currency for other primitive desires.
“One day, one of the monkeys was seen handing over a washer to another monkey, and the researcher thought ‘Oh! Is this altruism? Have I just discovered that this is a basic behavior?’ But then the monkey that received the washer began picking the other monkey’s fur…and then have sex,” explained Dubner.
“What the researcher had witnessed was not altruism,” he continued, “but monkey prostitution.”
Dubner concluded his keynote by saying that while using data to predict the future and enable actionable steps sounds like a great idea in theory, it’s always wise to remember that when it comes to behavior, very little is easily predictable.