Years ago, Wolfgang Kohler conducted a psychological study in which several monkeys were placed in a cage together with a single piece of food at the top of the cage. The monkeys were fed regularly, but if one of those monkeys attempted to climb up stairs and touch the food, the researchers would spray all the monkeys with ice water. The monkeys were eventually conditioned to never go up that high to retrieve the piece of food.
Later in the study, one of the monkeys was replaced with a monkey that had never been in the cage before. Once inside, it naturally started to climb to the top to retrieve the food. Out of fear of being shocked, the other monkeys tackled and beat him severely so he wouldn’t be able to access it. One by one, all of the monkeys were replaced so that none of the original monkeys were in the cage. Whenever a monkey tried to climb to retrieve the food, the other monkeys, who themselves have no knowledge of why they do this, tackled the hungry monkey down.
The study carries with it deep implications about how knowledge is transferred. Although humans aren’t monkeys, we here at the Alligator can’t help but feel like there are parallels in human learning.
When boys first start to use public restrooms, it’s not uncommon for them to drop the entirety of their pants to the floor, lift their shirts up with two hands and more or less blast the urinal with piss. As they age, they learn to simply unzip their pants and modestly relieve themselves without showing their bare asses. Moreover, the decision on which urinal you choose becomes a mathematical equation. Every man reading this editorial knows the complex and intricate calculus we endure when entering a restroom and choosing a urinal. If there’s an edge spot available with nobody next to it, you take it. If no such spot exists, find one middle spot with nobody next to either side of it. We won’t belabor the point by going into the thousands of hypotheticals that are possible, but know that every man undergoes this complex and intricate process upon entering the restroom. Seriously, do not underestimate how complex this process is.
At this point, you may be wondering to yourself, “What does this have to do with the monkeys in Kohler’s experiment?” Well, the whole point of that study was to better understand how knowledge is transferred silently. Like the monkeys that never say, “Don’t go to the top because then you’ll spray us all,” no father ever says to his son, “Don’t drop your pants all the way down because you look like a moron.” Eventually, boys see the behavior of people around them and modify their own behavior around it.
Oftentimes unintentional, when we are being raised as children, the ideas and behaviors of those around us slowly become our own. We unknowingly adopt their values, their principles and their understanding of how the world works. It’s incredibly common for our beliefs to be that of our parents, or that of the society in which we were raised. Like monkeys in cages or boys in bathrooms, there’s a silent set of fundamental rules and assumptions that we inherit when we are raised. We urge you to question and prod that assumed fundamental knowledge from which all of your other decisions and worldviews are based.