July 26, 2005

Monkey in the Middle.

What's in the monkey's mind when he looks in a mirror? Higher minds -- human beings, great apes, dolphins -- figure out, when they are looking in a mirror, that they are seeing themselves. Other animals, it's long been thought, think they're seeing a stranger. But a new study shows that the monkey occupies a middle position, where it doesn't see itself, but it doesn't see a stranger either. The monkey sees a "Puzzling Other."

And there's a sex difference. The males are disturbed by the Puzzling Other. The females try to flirt.

P.S. Did you use to play "Monkey in the Middle"? That was a very common kid's game when I was growing up. I suppose it would be considered too mean today. But it was a pretty fun game for three kids to play with just one small rubber ball. (There was also a similar game called "keep away.")


Paul said...

I haven't a clue about what the monkey thinks he sees in the mirror but I used to play the game you mention a lot. We didn't know the rules, if any, other than the two ends constantly yelling at the monkey to get back in the "middle", and not cheat. I was not cheating.

Chrees said...

Well, other than the sex difference part, it sounds like the monkeys have been reading Joseph Conrad.

ploopusgirl said...

Yah, no one's played keep away since 1934 or whenever you were child. It's far too mean a game for today's sweet PC children.

Bruce Hayden said...

It is interesting. I think that the author touched on why the males acted differently. It has something to do, I think, with dominence.

By necessity, we are much more cognizent about our place in the dominence structure than women are. Indeed, to some extent, women watch the men to see which men are dominent in order to pick them as mates.

I saw something a week or so ago about male dominence one species of monkey. There, somewhere around half of the males die from male-male rivalry.

So, it is very important, and in some species of monkey, absolutely life preserving critical, to determine almost immediately where you fit in, vis a vis, any other male. Defer if below, dominate if above, and maybe fight if on a similar level. If you pick someone too high up, you may die if you pick a fight with him.

So, quite possibly the male monkeys are seeing someone who might be at the same level as they. Same exact size, body carriage, etc. So, that in itself is unsettling. But then the dominence displays would not be quite right, as both would be doing them together.

In any case, I suspect that the reason that males are discomforted has a lot to do with dominence.

As for females and flirting, I am not female, so guessing more here. But female-female intereaction, esp. in primates, seems to be primarily collaborative, versus dominence and hierarchical driven. Thus, possibly, to the extent that they do not recognize the other as themselves, that is how they would approach a similar female monkey.

I did enjoy how female chimps handle mirrors, checking out the two places on their body they can't see.

Reminds me a bit of watching my girlfriend do her hair. Takes two mirrors, so she can make sure the back is perfect too. I, as a guy, am obviously oblivious to this sort of thing (no metro guy here). I am mostly light gray in front, and just assume that that is the color of my hair throughout. I am then always amazed at the barber to find out that, no, I stil have a fair amount of color in the back.

Bruce Hayden said...

Spelling is not one of my strengths. Sorry. For most things I write, I have spell checkers which do the work for me. But responding to blogs does not, and my responses suffer accordingly.

ploopusgirl said...

We know, Bruce.

dturnerc said...

Monkey in the middle!

You remind of my days as a grade school soccer coach. I called the girl in the middle the "It" girl. Since they were born in 1985, they didn't know who the original "It" girl was or what "it" was, so it was my little joke. It was a good training because it taught the other players to pass the ball to the open girl. It only took three of the better players to keep the ball away from the "it" girl in a relatively confined space.

Finn Kristiansen said...

In grade school in the mid-seventies we played monkey in the middle. It usually ended with the monkey getting pissed off and threatening to kick non-monkey ass, or bribing one of the throwers into "best-friendom".