Five gorillas were placed in a large cage. In the far corner of the cage, ten steps led up to a small platform. At random intervals, bananas would be lowered onto the platform.
One observant gorilla noticed the bananas, and he started up the stairs. But a sensor detected the gorilla’s presence near the stairs and the entire cage (all five gorillas) were thoroughly drenched with ice cold water. Gorillas, like other primates, hate being sprayed with ice cold water.
This happened each and every time any individual approached the stairs. They learned to never approach the stairs, no matter how many delicious treats landed on the platform. Gorillas, like other primates, respond quickly to conditioning.
Eventually, one of the five gorillas was replaced by a new subject. This new gorilla saw the juicy bananas at the top of the stairs and started toward them. They beat the new gorilla senseless before he even reached the stairs. Gorillas, like other primates, can be terribly violent creatures.
The second of the five original gorillas was subsequently replaced by another new gorilla. An encore scene ensued, with the new gorilla approaching the banana platform, but he, too, was severely pummeled by the other four, including the gorilla who was most recently mauled!
The third, fourth, and fifth of the original gorillas were each replaced, one by one, until none of the five original gorillas remained in the cage. Moreover, none of these five gorillas had everactually been sprayed with the detested ice water.
In fact, the sensor that monitored the stairs had been damaged during one of the more intense skirmishes and was no longer operational. A heap of bananas remained at the top of the stairs on the platform, free for the taking. Yet each time a new gorilla arrived, the other five never-been-sprayed gorillas provided the newcomer with their introductory thrashing and local education.
Why? Well, they had all learned, “That’s how we do things around here. That’s how it’s always been done.”
Adapted from the Parable of the Gorilla.