3Monkeys Use Other Monkeys as Scapegoats
We've previously talked about how monkeys can go to war, which obviously means that one of them has to act as the "general." This isn't exactly decided by an open election: In macaque troops, the alpha male is basically the monkey who's the biggest jerk. Like human dictators or schoolyard bullies, dominant monkeys use frequent and unpredictable aggression as an effective form of intimidation; in other words, they'll literally go apeshit on your ass, just to show that they can.
The shocking part is that the troops themselves also react to these intimidation techniques in a surprisingly human-like manner: by using scapegoats.
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"Before you punch me, you should know that Phil over there is doing your wife."
When a mid-level macaque is attacked by a stronger rival, victims will sometimes turn to innocent bystanders and beat the ever-loving crap out of them -- they direct the attention away from themselves onto a weaker, lower-status monkey that no one is going to defend. And it works: The alpha male doesn't really care whose ass gets kicked as long as it's sufficiently well-established that he's a crazy bastard that could go off on anyone at any moment. Once a scapegoat has been selected, the two of them will proceed to pummel the poor loser whose only mistake was being close by.
It's like monkey junior high.
But scapegoating isn't always just about saving your ass: Sometimes the monkeys use it as a type of political strategy. Often times the aggressor and the original victim will bond over beating the scapegoat and become allies, united in their douchebaggery (tearing into a helpless schmo is how bullies make friends, after all). And if a mid-level macaque takes the risk of choosing a high-ranking one as a scapegoat during a beating and it works, he can rise in the group and eventually become the top asshole.
But, like with humans, some monkeys are born to be leaders, and others are doomed to be punching bags. Many mid-level monkeys have favorite scapegoats that they'll pick every time there's a need for some dickish misdirection. So whenever a fight breaks out, you'll see low-ranking monkeys making a run for it, regardless of who's involved, so they don't accidentally end up being beaten by a mob for no reason.
"Maybe if I go under they won't notice ..."
Not that we don't find even more sophisticated psychological games being played in monkey society. For instance ...
2Monkeys Lie and Manipulate Each Other
We've told you before that many animals, including monkeys, possess an astounding range of calls to communicate and describe predators, which is how they can warn other members of their community when they see something dangerous lurking around. What we didn't mention is that some of them use this incredible ability to bullshit each other.
We can hardly blame capuchin monkeys of South America for being deceiving little bastards, because life for these poor guys is very much like being perpetually stuck in high school. The low-ranking monkeys are constantly having their food taken away by high-ranking jerks, and there's nothing they can do to stop this abuse from happening -- except lying their pants off.
The nose should have been a giveaway.
You see, when they find something tasty that they want to hold on to, the low-ranking monkeys will sometimes give a false warning shout to make everyone else haul ass, even the head monkeys, so they can eat without anyone bothering them. This is the equivalent of a high school nerd calling in a fake bomb threat so he can eat his fill of Jell-O cups in the cafeteria. Check out this video of a monkey who yells "snake" so that he doesn't have to share an egg:
When researchers noticed that the monkeys were doing this, they started performing some experiments, and they found that when they placed highly valued banana pieces near the monkeys, they were 10 times more likely to give out false alarms. Scientists still aren't sure if those monkeys actually understand that they are lying or if they simply learned to associate certain calls with getting more bananas for themselves, but the result is the same: All the other monkeys are getting conned out of their food.
"It was horrible, you guys. I've never seen a snake gulp down so many bananas."
Of course, this strategy involves some risks: Rhesus macaques, for example, punish members that are caught cheating the group out of food, presumably by tying their tails around their behinds and performing pantsless wedgies. In order to get away with it, these macaques would have to be capable of premeditated crime, but no monkey would be smart enough to do something like that, right?