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GSU Psychologist and Neuroscientist Sarah Brosnan Profiled in Science Nation

Thursday, February 25, 2010 – Brooke Robinson

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GSU Assistant Professor of Psychology and Neuroscience Sarah Brosnan is an expert in monkey business.  A video series commissioned by the National Science Foundation covers two recent studies Brosnan conducted. 

One recent study compares the reactions of two monkeys who had performed the same trick, but received unequal rewards.

"They're more than happy to eat cucumbers until they see their partner getting a grape, in which case they don't like their cucumbers any more," notes Brosnan. “This tells us a lot about human situations.  For instance, you may be perfectly happy with your salary until you find out someone who's a year your junior with fewer publications has a higher one, in which case, suddenly your salary isn't OK at all."

To further compare primate and human reactions Brosnan and her team collaborated with Bart Wilson, law and economics Professor at Chapman University in California.  Pairs of chimpanzees, capuchin monkeys and pairs of humans were given similar tests, in which cooperation earned rewards - food for the apes, small amounts of money for the students.

Monkeys and humans cooperated more that 70 percent of the time, suggesting that cooperative behavior runs deep in the nature of primates.

"People are very sensitive to their surroundings and the environments in which they make these decisions,” Professor Wilson Explains, “and so this was an opportunity, working and talking with Sarah Brosnan, to explore the real differences and similarities that humans might have with nonhuman primates."

Her study is conducted with support from the National Science Foundation (NSF)
The full story can be found on NSF's Web site here: