5 Monkeys, a Ladder and Bananas Experiment

When you read this illuminating experiment, you will realise that this little story about 5 monkeys, a ladder and bananas is so true.


A group of scientists placed 5 monkeys in a cage and in the middle, a ladder with bananas on the top.

Every time a monkey went up the ladder, the scientists soaked the rest of the monkeys with cold water.

After a while, every time a monkey went up the ladder, the others beat up the one on the ladder.

After some time, no monkey dare to go up the ladder regardless of the temptation.

Scientists then decided to substitute one of the monkeys. The 1st thing this new monkey did was to go up the ladder. Immediately the other monkeys beat him up. After several beatings, the new member learned not to climb the ladder even though never knew why.

A 2nd monkey was substituted and the same occurred. The 1st monkey participated on the beating for the 2nd monkey. A 3rd monkey was changed and the same was repeated (beating). The 4th was substituted and the beating was repeated and finally the 5th monkey was replaced.

What was left was a group of 5 monkeys that even though never 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 would beat up all those who attempted to go up the ladder I bet you the answer would be….

“I don’t know — that’s how things are done around here” Does it sounds familiar?

This tragic circle is unfortunately present in our society and in many religions and cultures. The lesson is as obvious as it is important:


Dare to be sceptical.

This research has happened, but not in this way. Yet, this form of this fable has spread recently. In the original study monkeys behaved in a different way, there was no ladder, kitchen utensils were used and not bananas. Monkeys were not sprayed by water, but with air.

My intention was not to make a reliable scientific description, as this story is not a true and replicable research. My intention was to make a moral lesson.

References (original research)

Stephenson, G. R. (1967). Cultural acquisition of a specific learned response among rhesus monkeys. In: Starek, D., Schneider, R., and Kuhn, H. J. (eds.), Progress in Primatology, Stuttgart: Fischer, pp. 279-288.

Facebook Comments