Study Suggests Rhesus Macaques Prefer Brands That Exude Sex Appeal, Promote Social Status

It may seem like a very human trait to gravitate toward a brand or a product that’s being promoted by someone who’s physically attractive. But such a trait isn’t unique in the animal kingdom, according to the results of a new study on rhesus macaques and their reaction to specific types of advertisements.

In a paper published this week in the journal PLOS One, a team of scientists explained how they looked into the possibility of monkeys being able to form similar links between sex appeal and the desire to buy a certain product. A total of 10 adult rhesus macaques were trained on how to use touchscreen monitors, then put through a series of tests where the researchers paired specific brand logos with three images of monkeys — a dominant male’s face, a subordinate male’s face, and a female’s hindquarters – to create a simulated advertising campaign. The team also included some scrambled images to pair with the brand logos.

As noted by the Daily Mail, Adidas, Domino’s Pizza, Nike, and Pizza Hut were among the well-known brands used in the researchers’ experiments.

Once the monkeys began taking the tests, they were asked to choose between two brand logos, with the first paired with a monkey’s face or hindquarters, and the second matched with the scrambled photos. Ultimately, it was found that the rhesus macaques had a greater chance of choosing the image of a female monkey’s hindquarters than that of the male subordinate, and were more likely to opt for actual brand logos linked to the non-scrambled images. Furthermore, the researchers also found that the monkeys preferred the brand associated with the dominant male face or the female hindquarters over the brand linked to the subordinate male.

“Like humans, monkeys value information about sex and status, inviting the hypothesis that our susceptibility to these factors in advertising arises from shared, ancestral biological mechanisms that prioritize social information,” the researchers explained in a statement quoted by the Daily Mail.

This is not the first time in recent years that rhesus macaques were observed to have unusual human-like qualities. According to New Scientist, researchers discovered in 2017 that the species might also experience pareidolia, or the phenomenon where one believes they see a face in an inanimate object. Based on tests where the monkeys were exposed to almost 2,000 different pairings of photos, the animals seemed to have “succumbed to pareidolia,” as they spent more time staring at images that showed the illusion of a face than they did staring at images of actual monkey faces.

Speaking to Gizmodo, study first author M. Yavuz Acikalin, a researcher from the Stanford Graduate School of Business, admitted that his team’s paper has its share of limitations, primarily the small sample size that was limited to just five male and five female rhesus macaques. He added that the results cannot be compared against human behavioral patterns in a general sense, as the study was meant to back up earlier studies that claimed macaques can link brand logos to images they consider to be attractive.