That “Five Monkeys Experiment” Never Happened


You may have seen this story about the Five Monkeys Experiment recently:


Apparently it is supposed to describe a real scientific experiment that was performed on a group of monkeys, and it is supposed to raise profound questions about our tendency to unquestioningly follow the herd. Unfortunately it is complete and utter nonsense, because no such experiment ever happened.

Ironically, so many people are sharing this unverified pseudoscientific gibberish that it really does reveal our tendency to unthinkingly follow the herd; after all, why would you bother verifying an article about monkeys that literally has the tag line “think before you follow”?

This story has been doing the rounds since 1996, and it has never been verified. It seems to have first appeared in a book called Competing For The Future by Gary Hamel and C. K. Prahalad, and by “appeared” I mean it was just made up. The authors never provided a source. None of the authors who have referred to the experiment in the past eighteen years have provided a source either. None of the appealing memes or infographics that describe the story now provide a source. Suffice to say, there is no source, because the experiment never happened.

(I got some of this information from an internet chatroom, posted by a guy called BlueRaja. If you would like to check up on what I have said, you can do that.)

The article has gained popularity recently because it appeared in a TED Talk by some guy called Eddie Obeng,* showing once again that TED Talks are responsible for the spread of intellectual garbage and superficially appealing, hyperbolic misinformation. A blogger by the name of John Stepper writes about how amazing the Talk was and how Eddie was able to bring this untrue story to life. He then asks if it really happened, and says:

“A quick search reveals it did happen though the details are quite different.”

This is perfectly true, if by “quite different” he really means “not the same at all, in any way.”

TED rhet

Stepper’s “proof” that it happened “a little differently” is an article by G.R. Stephenson called Cultural Acquisition Of A Specific Learned Response Among Rhesus Monkeys (1966). The very existence of a scientific-sounding source seems to be enough to lend this ‘experiment’ some credibility (it’s got a big name and a date and everything) but all you need to do is read the experiment yourself to see that it has absolutely nothing to do with this ‘fable’ at all. They may as well have provided this as a source:


Did Stephenson put five monkeys in a room and spray them with water if they climbed up a ladder to reach a banana? Of course not.

Screen Shot 2015-08-10 at 15.30.21Screen Shot 2015-08-10 at 15.28.52

As you can see, the experiment is different in just a couple of minor ways:

  • Stephenson wanted to know if a learned behaviour in one monkey could induce a lasting effect on a second monkey. He was not making a study of group dynamics or herd behaviour at all.
  • He examined four sets of unisexual monkey pairs, not five random monkeys in a group.
  • The objects he used were plastic kitchen utensils, not a banana.
  • The type of punishment was an air blast, not a water blast.
  • There was no ladder- the object was just placed at one end of a controlled area.

To summarise, nothing about this real experiment is the same as the story. Nothing at all.

And what were the actual results of this barely relevant, totally different experiment?

Screen Shot 2015-08-10 at 15.38.40


So in some pairs the new ‘naive’ monkey did learn to fear the object after seeing how the conditioned monkey was afraid of it. However, in other pairs, the fearless behaviour of the naive monkey ended up teaching the conditioned one not to fear the object anymore. Note that this is exactly the wrong type of evidence for a charming story about “following the herd”.


Curiously, the results were gender-specific: in three male-paired cases the learned behaviour was transferred, in three female-paired cases it was not, and in two it was inconclusive. The female monkeys seemed to learn behaviours simply by observation (including cases in which the punished monkey learned that there would be no more air blasts by watching the new monkey play with the object). The male pairs behaved differently, tending to teach a behaviour physically. The punished monkey actively admonished the newer one by pulling them away from the object.

The interesting part of the study therefore comes from the gender differences, but even then Stephenson shies away from making any conclusions from his data. This is the sort of thing a scientist says, because science is about real things.

Screen Shot 2015-08-10 at 15.43.29

The sample size is small and no bullshit should be inferred.

Unfortunately, a few decades after this study was published some moronic self-help author read it and thought “it’s almost good, but if I make it much more sensational and implausible, I will sell a lot of books! Though I don’t have any real truths, I can help people by showing them essential truths I’ve just made up!” And then you read it on Facebook, and thousands of people shared it, believing it to be true.


It’s one thing to share a meme because it sounds cool. We have all done it, myself included, even though it is a truly terrible misuse of our intelligence and most of us would not want our children to be mindlessly repeating hearsay and gossip because it sounds cool.

However, I can’t help but wonder how a blogger like John Stepper can be so smitten by the power of rhetoric that after hearing this implausible story about five monkeys he tries to validate it by referring to an unrelated study, and decides that “the details are a bit different.” No John, the details are not a bit different, they are so different that it makes your “evidence” irrelevant. Without evidence, you are just helping to spread misinformation. Please, please use your brain.

In fact, everybody, please stop sharing articles like this. It doesn’t take long to find out if something is true. This is one of the things our years of secondary (and perhaps tertiary) education were supposed to teach us: think before you follow!

Now, if only there was a cool story about some scientific-sounding thing I could quote to give my rant a bit more substance…

*UPDATE: As Eddie Obeng points out in the comments below, I was incorrect in saying that he delivered this story at a TED Talk. He definitely did not use cutesy projected graphics to relay uplifting platitudes to an audience of gullible twats at a TED event- he did it at JiveWorld instead, which is probably completely different.

He also insists it is a fable, not a story about a real experiment. This is probably why he introduces it as  “an experiment I came across; apparently a group of researchers were looking at behaviour. What they did was, they got five monkeys…”

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77 Responses

  1. Isaac says:

    Ironic that the circulating “experiment” is about thinking and not just following the herd and yet people follow the herd in sharing it without checking its validity.

    Maybe that was the point.

  2. If you really want to scream, when I just googled “monkey banana ladder,” the first three hits were claims that the experiment actually took place, including this answer:

    which only a the end says, “Well, it seems to be true; not in the exact shape that it took here, but close enough.”

    It was only beginning with the fourth result in my Google search, an article from Psychology Today, that the debunking of the fiction seemed to begin.

  3. Eddie Obeng says:

    Shame you didn’t check your facts. There is no reference to the 5 monkeys in any of my TED talks. Plus anyone with any brains knows a fable from researched material. When Aesop wrote about a fox jumping for grapes only an idiot would believe the fox spoke… I bet you won’t publish this comment

    • Throwcase says:

      I believe you are correct. John Stepper describes the speech you gave at Jiveworld, not TED. I can’t argue with a fact!

      Sadly, many people have not responded to this story as if it is a fable. My frustration is partly because I also expect them to do so. I have edited the page about this experiment several times because someone kept changing my answer back to “the experiment was real but slightly different.” Do a quick google search and you will see that almost every reference to this assumes that it really happened.

    • Throwcase says:

      Also, is it not slightly disingenuous to say that everyone everyone will know this story is a fable when it begins with “scientists did this experiment…”
      I don’t know how you tell the story, but I doubt you begin with “this isn’t true in any way, in fact there is real evidence that contradicts it completely, but it’s a great story anyway.”

    • Curious says:

      The best part of Eddie’s vitriolic rebuttal is that a simple google search of ‘eddie obeng’ and ‘5 monkeys’ gives me a youtube video where he makes an impassioned 2 minute account of the story.

      There is an assumption that, when you tell an anecdote, it has at least some basis in reality. Parroting unsupported statements without fact checking them first is commonly referred to as ‘spreading bull****’ around here.

      Defending a tenous position with an aggressive rant certainly doesn’t help your image either. The comparison to Aesop’s fable is outright disingenuous and misleading – as throwcase also mentions!

    • Gordon Eagleheart says:

      All matter is a mirror that reflects light and creates images of that light. I’m glad to hear your response Eddie Obeng. Many teachers use analogy and fable to present relationships between the immeasurable (mystery) and the measurable (science). Our current culture is dominated by the “religion” of science and such paradigms prevent many from feeling the truth of messages delivered. Kepler, Copernicus and Galileo were ridiculed and claimed as heretics by the religions of the time. Similar actions are happening in this day and age. What was the driving force behind trying to prove or disprove the existence of a story with a beautiful message? The story of the monkeys in a cage shows what happens when minds listen to what they think they know and teach others lies of how to be in the world. Can others see what is shown in the story about the story of the monkeys? Can we see the mirrors of life showing us our mind being reflected to us? Thank you Eddie Obeng for sharing your wonderful story. Thank you all for showing us how the teaching of the story plays out in our world.

      • Throwcase says:

        Interesting that you bring up Kepler, Copernicus, and Galileo; these three men were not content with the “beautiful stories” of their time, because they could see evidence that suggested otherwise.

        What are you praising them for if you don’t like the spirit of evidence-based, truth-seeking scientific inquiry?

        Also, is it not odd to criticise the “paradigm” generated by a scientific “religion” if you then fervently believe in a story that claims to be based on a scientific experiment?

      • defguntMtt Briggs says:

        This is a good example of anti-intellecutualism thats persisted since we could rationalise.

  4. Mishelle says:

    Great piece and comment arguments! I’m SO glad I found it before I wrote about that story on my blog! Part of the problem is, it really does sound like it is true, because those of us who attempt to dispel the myth makers experience these “beatings” more often than not.

  5. Lana says:

    Makes you sort of wonder why, after all this, someone hasn’t actually run the experiment then. it’s not so difficult, right?

  6. Mihailo says:

    Slavoj Zizek in his article named psychologist Harry Harlow as a conducter of this experiment. I don’t think that a guy like Zizek would write something without checking it first, let alone make the whole thing up.

    • Throwcase says:

      So where is the proof? You can believe hearsay, I will believe proof.
      I have heard people making the Harlow claim before- I checked through all of his published papers and not one sounds remotely like this experiment. If you can find it, I will happily eat my words.

    • Throwcase says:

      Also, what Zizek article do you refer to? I have done a quick search and can’t find it. Do you have a link?

  7. Well, of course, if it cant be proven with Google, it doesnt exist. Coz they didnt actually record all of their experiments on tape, and if they dont have PROOF other than their own credentials as professionals and doctors… I wonder, do you require such physical, recordable proof for all the beliefs of science you hold dear? I have no proof of any of Freud’s work, so perhaps I should discredit him. I have no proof of Darwins actual research, perhaps he made it all up.
    If you desire such proof from experiments that were made when we didnt have such a plethora of physical records and recording devices, then most of the knowledge we function on should be discredited.

    • Throwcase says:

      To your questions I answer an absolutely unequivocal yes. I, much like the entire scientific profession, do require proof in order to believe a scientific claim.

      It is incredible that you mention Freud, because a century of scientific research has in fact discredited much of what he wrote and theorised. So that is an excellent point for my argument. Thanks.

      Also with Darwin, all his evidence was catalogued and subsequently researched further, which would not have been possible if it had simply been made up. In fact, Origin Of the Species is a very boring book, because it is so relentlessly factual and evidence based. So again you make an excellent point for the value of scientific proof.

      In the absence of a physical or written record or experiment one should at least be able to repeat the experiment and get the same result. This has never been done for this so called monkey “experiment” and if it were to be done I am certain the result would not be the one claimed here.

  8. Relu says:

    I appreciate your interest for science and the tenacity you provide in defending the idea of “no proof – didn’t happen”. I also appreciate you are indeed educated and you do your homework before posting about a subject. However, I despise the lack of respect you show to people that have a different opinion. You can make your point without being sarcastic.
    Now, in regard to your beliefs, I think that someone once said that only a fool is absolutely sure about something. So, you are absolutely sure about this experiment, never actually took place? Just because there is no record of any kind of it? Well, sir, please tell me how do you know that the shape of our galaxy pictured everywhere, is the real one? Do we have a probe, o space ship of any form, outside our galaxy, far enough to actually take that picture? If not, do we have enough data to map our entire galaxy precisely? It’s just one example that comes to mind…
    In regard to the monkeys, you may be right: the experiment may have never took place. But the absence of proof, does not necessary implies the absence of the event itself… Probable cause? Animal cruelty. This would not have been an experiment that gives results that benefits humans to justify beating up the monkeys. So, if I did it anyway, why should I publicly admit to it? It would have been a pure psychological experiment. So, why record it?
    Just sayin’…
    Thank you for taking the time to read this!

    • Throwcase says:

      “So, you are absolutely sure about this experiment, never actually took place? Just because there is no record of any kind of it? ”

      Yes. The bare minimum required of a scientific proof is that it can be demonstrated. Existing is indeed a great demonstration.

      “Well, sir, please tell me how do you know that the shape of our galaxy pictured everywhere, is the real one? ”

      I don’t. I never said I did. I presume, like all lasting scientific models and theories, that it is the best guess we have based on the observable evidence.

      “But the absence of proof, does not necessary implies the absence of the event itself… ”

      That is exactly what it implies. The burden of proof is on the person making the claim. Without proof, it is just a claim, no more. Your theory about animal cruelty is logical, but unnecessary. We do not need to multiply explanations as to why there is no record of this experiment- there is no record because it never happened.

      Also, there were very many experiments done in the 20th century that were avidly cruel and unashamedly so. For example, the work of Harlow and his “rape rack.” So even if your explanation was needed, it would be unconvincing anyway.

  9. Ellie Swell says:

    B.F. Skinner mentions something almost identical in Walden Two, his utopian novel: a herd of sheep that never approach a fence even after it has ceased to be electrified. I think the relevance of that episode to the rest of the book is that structures taken for granted might simply be ingrained, and not necessarily useful (kind of a prerequisite for any utopia, it appears near the beginning and I guess it sets the scene), but I’m not sure what its scientific basis is, if any. Skinner has not been wholly innocent of purveying dodgy ideas. Maybe that’s where they got it from.

    • Throwcase says:

      Fascinating! Thanks for this comment. I had no idea B.F Skinner wrote a novel at all, and the little I have just read about it has piqued my interest greatly. It is entirely possible that this is indeed where others got the idea from.

  10. Love your blog – entertaining and informative! One of my earlier gigs was playing in a circus band, the kind with elephants and other animals. Once in Thunder Bay, ON we had the elephants inside of the building overnight (a curling rink) in the same area as the trailers where people were staying. it was April and too cold to stay outside. In between them and the people was a single shoestring thick cord wrapped around the support beams making an impromptu corral. I inquired and was reassured that since they had previously been in such enclosures with electrified barrier cords, they never bothered to test their limits and go beyond them. On the second night we were there, our MD felt his trailer (a tiny two-toned brown Boler we called the hamburger) start to shake. Our MD Ross opened his window curtain and saw this big elephant eye blinking at him, just like the scene from Jurassic Park. But I guess these elephants didn’t about read the monkey experiment or B.F. Skinner.

  11. Mr.Nobody says:

    Well I hate to be that dumb monkey to say this, but the experiment isn’t about 5 monkeys is it? Isn’t it about a planet filled with monkeys? The story about the 5 monkeys looks more like a banana to me.. And we can pretend for the arguments sake that you are the coldshower Throwcase 😀

    Just for the arguments sake! It is after all “a mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.” –

    To test theories it’s almost always better to use unknowing subjects. Much more of a natural atmosphere. But also, if you tell a human being that he’s a monkey, he will more likely then not, take it as an insult. The monkey get’s pissed and walks away, and you have a monkey experiment with no monkeys. Better is to use yourself as the monkey/banana to play dumb and let smarter monkeys do the hard work. All you have to do is to rattle the cage. Depending mainly on how much frustration the dumb monkey is presenting to the others, determines if the experiment is a success or not. low amount of frustration = nobody cares. high amount of frustration = Many cares. Rattle to much and people will want to kill you. Proof? Mention the name Beiber on your social media and you’ll go: “Oh I see what you’re talking about. LOL!”

    This Tactic is used a lot in corporate espionage and journalism to gather information and secrets.

    “You’ve got to play fool to catch wise sometimes” – Old Jamaican proverb

    Have a great day Throwcase, was really fun and interesting to read your Aristotle! And thanks for turning me from a dumb monkey into a sneaky Elephant 😉

    Cheerio friend!

  12. Q says:

    But even if it were true, doesn’t it show the exact opposite of what it should?

    If every time a monkey goes up the ladder, something bad happens to all the monkeys, then it makes sense to stop monkeys from going up the ladder.

    And after all the monkeys have ben replaced, how are they supposed to know that the bad thing won’t continue to happen if one of them goes up the ladder?

    So stopping the new monkeys form going up the ladder, far from being stupid like the story presents it as, is actually absolutely sensible.

    It’s only because we know that the experimenters won’t give the cold shower that it looks stupid to us, looking on from outside. But how are the monkeys supposed to know that? From their point of view it’s totally sensible to stop monkeys climbing the ladder.

    It looks to me like a prime example of Chesterton’s fence.

    • Throwcase says:

      Excellent point, and I am glad to be introduced to the idea of Chesterton’s fence- thanks!

    • RagingR2 says:

      @Q I am not sure when you say that the experiment, if true, would prove the opposite?
      What do you mean “opposite”. I think if it were true, it would indeed prove the existence of herd behavior. It’s just that it would also show, that in some cases, herd behavior actually makes sense. At least to the participants! But indeed there are many cases where herd behavior demonstrably works. I think you will find that the reasoning “lots of people are doing it, so it must work to some degree”, considerably more than 50% of the time, is a very valid assumption.

  13. Jknobes says:

    stumbled across this “experiment” a few years ago… tried to find sources but turned up short. So frustrating! Great to finally categorize the story as allegorical rather than having scientific merit. Thanks for easing my mind. ciao.

  14. Saroku says:

    You made one major mistake. You didnt get that its not a scientific claim that is about the monkeys behavior. Its a metaphorical story.

    • Throwcase says:

      If it is only metaphorical, why does it need to have scientists in the story at all? Why do so many people believe that it is a real experiment? Why does it have an accompanying scientific source that is supposed to lend credence to the whole experiment but actually disproves it? Why not come up with a better metaphor, one that doesn’t begin with “a group of scientists ran an experiment…”

      • Damien Grey says:

        This is a scientific experiment. This can be used to check human beings how well they respond to social compliance. Derren Brown shows this in his experiment The Push on Youtube. As that Mr.Nobody guy said earlier in a strange way. Switch the word monkies with humans, switch the word cage with society/culture/religion.

        Forget the “monkey” experiment and try to see the bigger picture. This “story” is not about monkies. You’re all right when you say it didn’t happen. Unless you believe in evolution and view human beings as a primate and thus, a sort of a monkey. It just goes to show that even we science people can be fooled. Mainly because we are very keen to take experiments literal.

        It’s pretty long the experiment he did. But the main purpose about his experiment was to find out if we can use social compliance to push someone off a building and commit murder. So yea. Pretty interesting. He uses this “monkey in the cage” tactic to sort out the people who didn’t respond to social compliance from the ones who did. Whoever wrote this story is talking about social compliance using metaphors it would seem. That’s why we can’t see the science in it.

        So seemed that Mr.Nobody guy be doing as well btw. Speaking in Metaphors that is.

        • Throwcase says:

          It wasn’t a scientific experiment. It didn’t happen.

          I get the metaphor. I might have liked the metaphor, if it was presented as a metaphor. It is not. It is presented as a scientific experiment.

          It may illustrate a truth, of course, but that is a different thing. In that case, the opening of the story should read “This didn’t happen, but it illustrates a truth.” Dale Carnegie wrote exactly that sort of line in his book, How to Win Friends and Influence People. He says “I have among my clippings a story I know never happened, but it illustrates a truth, so I’ll repeat it.” Why is that too hard for so many others to do?

  15. Damien Grey says:

    You are right in that it literally didn’t happen. But if you navigate through the world and take everything literal, then doesn’t that make you pretty blind? When in today’s world lies and manipulation is far more effective and widely used then logic and scientific facts? After all. You where about to disregard this entire “experiment” But then others come along and tell you it’s more to it. Quite important the entire topic of social compliance it turns out.

  16. Antonio York says:

    I like the article – the author of it, however, is ‘obviously’ a complete arrogant, pompous, pretentious, prick. The article “obviously” didn’t need to be written in a way that makes it sound that …”well since you read it on the internet ‘obviously’ it must ‘obviously’ NOT be true.” Perhaps in the future this author can spend more time sharing knowledge in a constructive way…but I doubt that since…the likelihood of someone, like this author, who ‘obviously’ knows it all, of putting his feet on the ground and actually being at our level…is quite low.

    • Throwcase says:

      Good point. I think the use of ‘obviously’ does indeed convey a less than ideal attitude, though I allowed myself to use it in the hopes that more people would click on the link.

    • Throwcase says:

      Haha- excellent. Thanks for sharing!

      I have my doubts about how staged that clip might be. Let’s assume it is true and none of those people were actors, at least it was filmed and there is solid proof about what these people did. That has always been my complaint about the five monkeys story: it claims to be from a scientific experiment that never happened.

      • senhalil says:

        “That has always been my complaint about the five monkeys story: it claims to be from a scientific experiment that never happened.”

        But if we assume that the clip is true, then there is nothing to discuss. You were right from the beginning that the five monkey experiment is just a made story which explains a true phenomena in a more fancy way (again, if the clip is true or if the conclusion of the original paper is correct).

        My complaint is the way you handle this subject:
        – I already explained my point about “inferring bs” in my other comment

        – The following are really irrelevant, it looks like you are just trying to use the proof by example fallacy.
        The objects he used were plastic kitchen utensils, not a banana.
        The type of punishment was an air blast, not a water blast.
        There was no ladder- the object was just placed at one end of a controlled area.

        – Stephenson wanted to know if a learned behaviour in one monkey could induce a lasting effect on a second monkey. He was not making a study of group dynamics or herd behaviour at all.
        Only this difference is somewhat valid in my opinion but they are still related to each other. That is, the failure of the first experiment wouldn’t invalidate the point of the second hypothetical experiment (because of peer pressure) but its success would increase the success probability of the hypothetical experiment.

  17. Johnny P says:

    The point being that this is really how primates behave, including people of course.

    • RagingR2 says:

      Is that your belief? Or is there actual proof for it? Sure, I see some herd behaviour around me too, when I’m in a cynical mood. The point is: herd behaviour may not be as strong as we believe it to be, we might just be seeing it everywhere because we WANT to see it, or because we assume it exists.
      The real point is that there is no scientific proof that primates or even humans really behave this way, and to such a strong degree. Not until there is an ACTUAL experiment with ACTUAL proof that we can see/read. Sure, I readily believe there is some herd behaviour in apes and people. It’s just there is also curiosity, inventiveness, learning skills and the capability of independent thought, that will “temper” the effect of herd behaviour in people. That’s why we don’t ALWAYS do what other people are doing. You might even say that our wariness of behaving like a herd-animal keeps it somewhat in check, most of the time.

      Like Throwcase said elsewhere: there are videos with people repeating stupid behaviour on YouTube for instance. But… where those experiments real? Were there any staged events with actors? And even if they weren’t, were the experiments scientifically valid? Are they documented and peer-reviewed? And can we, or at least other scientists, see that documentation somewhere? Or were they just made by some TV-show with a half decent understanding of how to do a proper scientific experiment.

  18. I’m surprised nobody has tried to recreate this experiment, although there is stuff like

    • Throwcase says:

      Yes I was fascinated to see that clip! I wonder how staged it is, though… I would be keen to see more.

  19. Have you considered that the fact that the study never happened and yet the fiction was so easily propagated as fact supports the central point of the ficitonalized “study”?

    There being something to debunk that you considered worth the effort of this article in effect *emphasizes* that the phenomenon occurs and is robust enough to warrant this kind of attention.

    This just raises the question why you were interested in debunking details of factual inaccuracy when the fact that they were inaccurate just exemplifies the potency of uncritical, self-reinforcing credulity induced by social influence, which is precisely the point of the five monkeys study-cum-allegorical-fiction.

    I think you just demonstrated the opposite of your implicit intent. Correct me if I’m wrong.

    • Throwcase says:

      You have pointed out the central irony that makes the success of this meme so frustrating; yes, it was easily propagated because people just presumed it was true, but no, that popularity does not make the story true. Facts are always worth declaring, especially in the face of mounting untruths.
      The fact that the meme literally says “think before you follow” and people were willing to share this without actually thinking about it, is absurd. Though it might “exemplify the potency of uncritical, self-reinforcing credulity”, it does so in the name of going against the herd and thinking for yourself. The irony is endless.

      • Note I didn’t claim that popularity makes the story true, lol.

        There are two pieces to this: the story’s facticity and the truth of the point made by what we agree was a fiction. I’m just pointing out that you chose to deal with the lesser issue, and that getting taken for true even though it’s not exemplifies the story’s point and serves as evidence for the truth of its point.

        In other words, the story is a metaphor, not a rendition of fact; but like all metaphors, the truth it communicates doesn’t suffer merely because fiction was used to impart it. My point was that your debunk of the story’s facticity doesn’t detract from the truth of the story’s point and only shows how powerful metaphors are.

        From a logical standpoint, showing the story to be fiction has no bearing on the truth of the point it makes about a phenomenon that is quite real and prevalent.

        So the investment you made in disproving the facticity of the story only confirms that metaphors are powerful, even when presented as fact, and thus demonstrates the truth of the story’s point: it’s easy to form beliefs without facts. Given that your article seems to overlook that baby in your attention to its bathwater, I found that ironic.

        I guess another way to look at this is that you seem to be confusing two different claims. One is that the experiment proves it’s possible to create beliefs without awareness of any factual basis for the belief. Debunking the experiment as a hoax would impact that claim. The other claim is that this fictional experiment nicely highlights the unreasonableness of a phenomenon that’s common and recognizable and — as anyone who has worked in any kind of long-running governance structure can tell you, whether it’s in business, government, or religion — happens all the time. You addressed the first claim, not the second. What’s more, the rhetorical implication of the article (by omission, so it’s easy to let it slip in,) is that dealing with the first claim has a bearing on the second one. But of course, that’s just poppycock. 😀

        • Throwcase says:

          I do not see “the truth” as the lesser issue. The truth is always the more important issue.
          The fact that people believe this myth because it “seems” to be true still does not prove that the story is true. If anything, it proves that the meme is useless and self-contradictory, because it supposed to be an injunction NOT to believe things for superficial, and unexamined reasons.

          • Damien Grey says:


            I agree with you that truth is the most important part.

            One way of simplifying and shortening down hard-to-grasp lessons and truths, are to break it down into easy to understand concepts. It’s called pedagogy. It’s not in general targeted towards very intelligent people like yourself. Or people who already understands the psychology behind it.

            If we go back in our minds to when we we’re kids, we know that to be true. We didn’t start learning by counting hard-to-grasp mathematics. We started by counting apples and things like that.

            I think the major problem we’re having here is the collision with different fields of experiences. To understand the underlying reason to why this is a great metaphorical lesson, one needs quite a lot of knowledge about psychology, neurology and overall history. To understand human behaviour overall.

            I will say it again. You’re right about the truth is the most important part to understand. So pointing out that this experiment concerning monkeys in a cage never happen is correct.

            But it’s also true that the psychological phenomenon of which this story is based upon is also true. So it’s not a “myth” either.

            Derren Brown is nothing short of being an expert at these things. None of us here knows more about manipulating people’s behaviour and thoughts then he can. He puts this into practice in “The Game show – experiment”

            I just think he explains the inner working of how this works in practice in a very interesting way by making fun and dramatic ways to watch it. Targeted towards people who learn faster by watching rather then reading.

            That was the reason to why I mentioned him instead of a scientifical paper to read. If you like to read about it instead, I could find a real scientifical paper where this is being confirmed.

            One of the most famous experiment where this happens is called “The Stanford Prison Experiment”. They took in a group of civilians and told half the group that they where prisoners and the other half was prison guards. There’s even a movie about that real experiment.

            I think that movie (with the same name from 2015) would be more interesting for everyone to look at. Since it’s based on a real experiment. The 5 monkeys are not. I think the 5 monkeys was meant to explain it in a pedagogical way to children if anything.

            Biggest example of when the same concept happen on a grander scale was Nazi Germany.

            It’s all based in compliance.

            I hope you find one or more of them interesting enough to learn more about. Since you expressed an interest when someone sent a video regarding it, but wasn’t sure if it was staged or not.

            After all. Marketing agencies use the same knowledge to make the majority of people to buy stuff they don’t really need.

            That’s why most of them aren’t targeting markets and people who they genuinely believe needs their products. Rather who’s more likely to buy products based on impulses.

            You’re very right in pointing out the flaw in the truth of the story. Those who wrote it shouldn’t have described it using words as science and experiment. Because those are not based in metaphors. It just portrays the underlying facts which it is based on in a bad light. Specially when we come across the fact that the 5 monkey story isn’t based in a real experiment. We’ll just disregard the entire story instead since we think it’s based in fantasy rather then truth.

            I thought it was real because of my knowledge about human psychology and neurology. So I thank you for pointing out that it wasn’t the case.

            Have a great day Throwcase!

          • No one said truth is not important, so I’m not sure who you’re addressing there. Ghosts?

            You conflated two things, one more important than the other, and so the truth of the one is more important than the truth of the other, but you focused on the less important issue as if it discredited the more important issue.

            Question 1: Truth of the phenomenon that the metaphor portrays. This is the more important issue you don’t seem to like and failed to give it its due.

            Question 2: The truth of the claim that the experiment in fact occurred.

            You fail to grasp that these are independent questions, and disproving the second actually has no bearing on the truth or value of the first.

            This is basic logic, dude.

            I’ll give you an example. I tell you I conducted an experiment and found that if you jump off a cliff you’ll be smashed against the rocks against the bottom. In fact, I conducted no such experiment.

            Your article is the equivalent of arguing that since my claim to have done an experiment is false, my conclusion is suspect or even flat out wrong. Not only would that be incorrect in the example’s case — you really will get smashed against the rocks if you jump off the cliff — the idea that disproving my claim to have performed an experiment has any bearing on the truth of the conclusion of the bogus experiment is just silly. There is no connection. It has no bearing. Just like your article.

          • Throwcase says:

            If the phenomenon is so true why do we need to invent experiments to describe it? No one benefits from this. A scientific experiment either happened or it didn’t, and misinformation of any form should be corrected.
            If the phenomenon is true, let us conduct a real experiment to prove it, or invent a fictional story to describe it. There is no need to start that fictional story with the supposedly genuine claim that “a group of scientists” were involved. That is a lie.

          • Throwcase says:

            Or, as you posted on your blog:

            “If their purposes were honorable, they would be in possession of facts, of the truth of what’s really going on, and they wouldn’t need bullshit.

            Resorting to bullshit proves dishonesty on a level even deeper than lying.”

          • Millard and Damien basically have summed up what I wanted to say, probably in a much better way than I would have been able to.

            I just want to point out something, from the edit at the bottom of you rant:

            “He also insists it is a fable, not a story about a real experiment. This is probably why he introduces it as “an experiment I came across; apparently a group of researchers were looking at behaviour. What they did was, they got five monkeys…””

            As soon as the word “apparently” appear, I would assume this is not a scietific claim. The story of the scientists conduction this experiment is indeed like a fable, designed to explain something real in an easy to grasp way. And I guess the reason people share it so easily, is because they know it to be true from their own experience. It’s like this experiment goes on in real life, for everyone, always.

  20. Wow, wrote a nice long response and it disappeared. Oh well.

    • Throwcase says:

      Indeed! Someone else posted that as well. If it is not faked in any way, it would be much better proof than this monkey story.

  21. Damien Grey says:

    @Throwcase: I told you such an experiment has already been done:

    This phenomenon has been studied for quite some time now. It’s being studied as we speak actually. But it’s okey. You can continue to live in denial.. However, you’re not being scientific about this. Just sayin.

    Helpful Termonology:

    Conformity: Is a type of social influence involving a change in belief or behavior in order to fit in with a group.
    This change is in response to real (involving the physical presence of others) or imagined (involving the pressure of social norms / expectations) group pressure.


    Compliance: Refers to a response—specifically, a submission—made in reaction to a request. The request may be explicit (i.e., foot-in-the-door technique) or implicit (i.e., advertising). The target may or may not recognize that he or she is being urged to act in a particular way. (In these cases presented we’re looking at the banana eater and the prisoners)


    Social compliance (business): Result of conformance to the rules of social accountability by the extended organization including not only the organization’s own policies and practices but also those of its supply and distribution chains. It is a continuing process in which the involved parties keep on looking for better ways to protect the health, safety, and fundamental rights of their employees, and to protect and enhance the community and environment in which they operate.


    • Throwcase says:

      You use the words “such an experiment has already been done”. Since you are unable to say “this experiment has already been done”, my point stands: the five monkey experiment never happened.
      The rest of your links are fascinating, but pointless. This article is about whether or not the five monkey experiment actually happened.
      (It didn’t.)

      • Damien Grey says:

        As I said. You’re not being scientific about this in order to not be in the wrong. Which we’ve already cleared you of being, regarding the five monkey experiment. So I don’t see how you can still be stuck on that. But to say that it is “pointless” to point out that the lesson behind the story is true is equally if not more important to emphasis, is quite chocking to hear to be honest.

        For you to be so focused on dissproving the five monkey story is the equivelent of me going through every episode of Dexters laboratory and dissproving everything that is scientifically wrong with that show.
        Now that is the definition of something pointless.

        To direct you to the real experiments regarding this is a civic duty since you have completely missed to cover that in your article. Which is okey. It’s your article. But it would be cool of you to write a follow up, covering the real experiments as a compliment to the facts of this phenomenon.

  22. Mohammad hosein says:

    It’s nat true scientifically , but still useful to convince people. There are lots of fanatics around us

  23. Mitch says:

    Eagleheart has it right. The religion of science, of the new credibility, has made us disbelieve what still cannot be disproven. The monkeys that curse and yet cause slowdowns on the roads as soon as there’s a rubber-necking opportunity are in the millions. I was in one of these festivals the other day, true celebrations of our irrational behavior. That the same shifting horde would turn around and put the imprimatur of ‘science’ on our lemming-like behavior does not negate what we see in our own unscientific reflections at the end of a long day.

  24. Leszek Serweta says:

    Come on guys this however doubt able experiment proofs one point. If you are going to change monkeys, change all at the same time. You can use “word” politics instead of monkeys.

  25. Plan says:

    Glad to see someone calling out those absurd TED talks, where virtually anyone can be an expert and every talk is presented as life-changing incredible advice.

    Seems like TED is popular the way “I Fucking Love Science” is popular. The people who are into that stuff are the same people clogging everyone’s social media feeds with GIF’d platitudes and articles about scientific research, not because they actually understand that stuff, but because they want people to *think* they understand and view them as intellectuals.

    It’s like high school kids who shape their identities around the music they like and the clothes they wear — if you want to present yourself as an intellectual online, you retweet links to TED talks and post photographs of nature and star systems captioned as “science.” Really? A tiger is “science”? A Jovian planet is “science”?

    And of course, these people don’t know shit. They don’t actually read the articles or watch the videos they’re reposting, they just want you to think they do. Cause they’re smart and stuff.

  26. Robert says:

    Hmmmm. Your source for this article was the internet. Your article Must be true lol you cannot verify nor deny everything. It is the way people act. Your article seems to insinuate that monkeys are smarter than people.

  1. December 22, 2014
  2. May 27, 2016

    What are some mind-blowing facts about social psychology?

    Though I personally want this experiment to be true, by googleing I found sorces saying this conclusion a work of fiction and that original experiment was quite different than this one… Souurce:…

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