Andy’s Quick Hits (216): The “drunken monkey” hypothesis — proven

Andy Hab
2 min readMay 4, 2022

This had to be a story I covered — monkeys and alcohol sounds too good to pass up. But this is also linked to the “drunken monkey” hypothesis: that humans developed their love for alcohol in earlier primitive times accidentally, and then intentionally, eating fruit that had fermented.

Indeed, UC Berkeley biologist Robert Dudley has been fascinated by the human attraction to alcohol and outlined the drunken monkey hypothesis in his book, eight years ago now. In this study lead by Christina Campbell, they tracked spider monkeys in Panama and measured alcohol content in their discarded fruit and found that these contained 1–2% alcohol.

What’s more they then measured urine of these monkeys and could see metabolites which are produced by the metabolism of alcohol. This shows that not only were these monkeys consuming alcohol but that they could metabolise this. This is a direct test of the drunken monkey hypothesis and suggests that our affinity to alcohol developed in a similar way.

However, it is no excuse to get stuck into your booze — research has shown that just about any dose of alcohol is bad for you — on the other hand this may suggest that low levels of alcohol consistently may be ok — just that our alcoholic beverages all contain a lot more than this 1–2%.

Christina J. Campbell, Aleksey Maro, Victoria Weaver, Robert Dudley.
Dietary ethanol ingestion by free-ranging spider monkeys (Ateles geoffroyi ).
Royal Society Open Science, 2022; 9 (3)
DOI: 10.1098/rsos.211729

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Andy Hab

Sharing fascinating, fun, and important knowledge on the brain and human behaviour - most days. And masters track athlete - still going strong!