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Information Cascades and the “Hundredth Monkey Effect”

In class, we learned about information cascades, in which an individual is influenced and changes their behavior or opinion based on inferences they make by observing other people. I think that this can be closely tied in with a certain Japanese myth or story titled the “Hundredth Monkey Effect”. This story, essentially talks about Japanese scientists and their study of macaque monkeys on an island, Koshima island, in the mid 1900s.

In short, the monkeys on this island learned to wash sweet potatoes in order to be able to eat this. This spread very quickly across the island as the monkeys learned by observation of each other. The name comes in to play when the amount of monkeys that learned to wash their food hit 100 monkeys, and this is when it instantly or miraculously started to spread to other islands other than Koshima.

This is very reminiscent of the concept of information cascades, as how this single idea was able to spread quickly not just within the island, but to surrounding islands, and soon to surrounding islands of those surrounding islands. It is interesting in how far reaching the concept of information cascades is, that it is incorporated into cultural myths and legends. Although not a true story, the phenomenon and ideas within the story ring true -a collective consciousness will always be present in the world, especially in this day and age. With modern technology, opinions and behavior can spread so quickly across such a large span of distance.


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November 2018