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300tube UC Berkeley   1 July, 2014

Why do we drink alcohol? The Drunken Monkey Argument


Evolutionary biologist Robert Dudley discusses his new book and implications for understanding alcoholism.

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Ever since childhood, when he saw his father descend into alcoholism, evolutionary physiologist Robert Dudley has been curious about humans' strong attraction to booze.

The notion crystallized one day 18 years ago in the monkey-filled jungles of Panama, when he observed an abundance of rotting fruit littering the forest floor, fragrant with the smell of alcohol. Perhaps, he thought, the odor of alcohol in fermenting, overripe fruit actually draws monkeys to the trees, normally hidden among the lush greenery, where nourishing fruit are most abundant. Maybe human attraction to alcohol is not unique in the animal world, and actually has a survival advantage.

Dudley, who specializes in the biomechanics of flight, spent the ensuing years accumulating evidence for this hypothesis, which he presents in a new book, "The Drunken Monkey, Why we drink and abuse alcohol" (UC Press 2014). He recently discussed his motivations for writing the book, the evidence that our attraction to alcohol is an evolutionary adaptation, and what this finding means for efforts to prevent alcohol abuse.

Video by Roxanne Makasdjian & Phil Ebiner, UC Berkeley.

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