Thursday, September 14, 2006

Chronicles of a Drunken Monkey

In the course of your college career, the chances are good that at some point you’ll come into contact with drunk people, and perhaps even *gasp* get drunk yourself. The behaviors exhibited by a drunk person are as varied as the people who drink; some binge drink, some drink during stressful times, and some just like to throw a few back and socialize. Now, if you were to head to The Monkey Bar in Amherst, you wouldn’t expect to see any actual monkey’s ordering gin and tonics at the bar; according to some recent studies about monkeys however, we aren’t the only species that likes to get sloshed and make fools of ourselves.

A study published in the journal Methods, explores the common ground shared by humans and primates in terms of our alcohol consumption, reaction, and abuse. The monkeys in the study showed patterns of alcohol consumption increase during the work hours of the facility that they are housed in.

"It was not unusual to see some of the monkeys stumble and fall, sway, and vomit," Chen added. "In a few of our heavy drinkers, they would drink until they fell asleep."

The study also concluded that those monkeys that were individually housed were likely to drink significantly more than monkeys housed in social groups. These are also similar to symptoms of human alcoholism. Another study conducted at McGill University in Montreal concluded that the majority of monkeys that consumed alcohol fell into four categories, "binge drinker, steady drinker, social drinker, and teetotaler." These monkeys also displayed some hilarious familiarity to the behavior see at many houses in Amherst, any weekend night.

"A cage full of drunken monkeys is like a cocktail party. Your have one who gets aggressive, one who gets sexy, one who thinks everything is funny and one who gets really grumpy. The binge drinkers gulp down the alcohol at a very fast rate and pass out on the floor. The next day they do it all over again."

Although I too was giggling hysterically and planning a trip to the local monkey dealer, I quickly found that these boozed up chimps aren't all fun and games. A news report out of India relates an attack by a group of monkeys that helped themselves to some alcohol conveniently left out in the open for them. No one in the village was killed... thankfully the monkeys couldn't swing straight.

Studying the behavior of our closest ancestors is key to understanding more about our own species' behavior. Hopefully these studies will spawn research in the realms of human alcohol addiction. The chance to study the process of alcohol addiction and the myriad social factors that it results from, in a controlled environment, is a great opportunity for scientists. As I see it, everybody wins, researchers get their data, and the monkeys get to party like they're animals.

Posted by Adam Stackhouse


At 2:28 PM, Anonymous PWH said...

Thanks for the very thought provoking post. I found it both upsetting and humorous. We sure can act like a bunch of mixed-up monkeys. And although outside the realm of science, the evolutionary origins of human behaviors may help highlight those behaviors that have a strong genetic basis and require us to work a lot harder to restrain them. However, one of the big differences between us and apes is that we can reflect on our behavior and try to make choices unconstrained by our biology.

Your post also raises some important ethical questions regarding using primates in this type of research. Should we be subjecting animals, that are biologically most like us, to this type of treatment?

At 4:31 PM, Blogger PWH said...

Poor monkeys. They are doomed to be a good model system for us. Therefore, while I have never seen a “drink for science” study going on anywhere, we are giving monkeys drinking problems.

I sort of wish the article you linked had less about the results of the study and more about the reason for it. Or more about the conclusion maybe. I wonder what the best way the information for the study can be used is. :)

Posted by heckers

At 5:36 PM, Blogger PWH said...

“Thankfully the monkeys couldn't swing straight.” Priceless. A very informative and amusing article, and very well written. I thought it was interesting how the monkeys exhibited similar behaviors and had the same types of drinkers as humans, showing that we aren’t that different from our simian ancestors as we’d like to think. It would be very interesting to see where this study goes, to see if maybe the scientist will be able to find better ways to treat alcoholism or maybe be able to identify susceptibility to alcoholism early in life. As some else said in another comment, it would have been nice if you had included what prompted the scientists to do this study.

Posted by JMSieer

At 11:56 PM, Blogger PWH said...

Reading through this article, I found an interesting subject, one whose possibility I had never even considered before. Though as I further mulled over the study, it seemed corruptive. Monkeys do not find this type of substance in their habitat, which is probably why I had never before considered the possibility of drunken monkeys. I feel like, though it may be a good model for humans to study alcoholism, it is exposing an unrewarding substance to an unsuspecting population. The concept made me consider Europeans coming to America, or the Opium Wars, where unsuspecting and innocent people were introduced to an addicting and intoxicating substance unnecessarily.

In regards to the last comment about why not “everybody wins, researchers get their data, and the monkeys get to party like they're animals” I believe is to not consider the suffering the animals will go through when they are going through withdrawal, something which they will encounter if their behavior patterns and reactions are truly as similar to those of humans as suspected.

Posted by Rachel Baritz (2)


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