A group of scientists placed five monkeys in a cage. In the middle of the cage, they placed a ladder with bananas on the topmost stair.
Every time a monkey climbed up the ladder, the scientists poured cold water over the other monkeys. After a while, every time a monkey made an attempt to climb, the others would pull it down and beat it up.
As a consequence, no monkey dared to climb the ladder, disregard of the temptation to do so.
The scientists then replaced one of the monkeys. The first thing this new monkey did was climbed the ladder. Immediately, the others pulled him down and beated him up.
After several beatings, the new monkey learnt that he wasn’t supposed to climb the ladder, even though there were no evident rational reasons not to do so.
The second monkey was substituted with another new one and the same result was observed. The first monkey participated in the beating of the second monkey. A third monkey was changed and the same thing repeated. One by one all the monkeys were replaced.
The cage then had a group of five entirely new monkeys without ever having received a cold shower continued to beat up any monkey who attempted to climb the ladder.
If it was possible to ask the monkeys why they did so, their most likely answer would be “I don’t know. It’s just how things are done around here.”
Does that statement sound familiar to you?
Source: This story is a modern day fable and was inspired in part by the experiments in “Cultural acquisition of a specific learned response among rhesus monkeys“ by G.R. Stephenson and experiments with chimpanzees conducted by Wolfgang Kohler in the 1920s. Over the years, the story was pieced together to form the urban legend as it now stands.