A theme issue of Philosophical Transactions, compiled and edited by Elsa Addessi (Cnr-Istc), Sacha Bourgeois-Gironde (Institute Jean Nicod- Ecole Normale Superieure de Paris) and Thomas Boraud (Université de Bordeaux), collects some of the most recent studies on the economic behaviors of non-human primates, our closest relatives, highlighting the cognitive mechanisms underlying human decision making
To understand the cognitive mechanisms underlying economic decision-making in our species, it is of pivotal importance to investigate the behavior of our closest relatives, the non-human primates: from capuchin monkeys to gorillas, up to chimpanzees. By comparing human and non-human primates, it is possible to reconstruct the evolutionary roots of our economies. This is the focus of a recent theme issue of the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London, entitled “Existence and prevalence of economic behaviors in non-human primates”, compiled and edited by Elsa Addessi (Istituto di scienze e tecnologie della cognizione, Consiglio nazionale delle ricerche, Roma, Cnr-Istc), Thomas Boraud (Université de Bordeaux) and Sacha Bourgeois-Gironde (Institut Jean-Nicod - Ecole normale supérieure de Paris), which brings together multidisciplinary articles from international universities and research centers, and includes research from comparative psychology to economics, up to neuroscience.
“The 16 articles provide an overview of the most recent research on the economic behaviors of non-human primates. For example, they highlight a series of inter-individual differences during decision making under risk, which are fundamental for understanding the evolutionary origins of pathological gambling in human beings”, says Addessi. “Risk preference, that is the willingness to choose options that have a low probability of winning, as in the case of winning at the lottery, changes according to the social context and to the extent of possible losses: chimpanzees are more inclined to gamble in the presence of a potential competitor and when, by losing, they get a small reward. The way in which options are proposed is also important: as it has been observed in our species, macaques are more likely to risk when facing potential losses than potential gains”.
However, the risk preference of non-human primates does not differ between males and females, as it has been shown in human beings, where women generally are less willing to take risks than men, probably due to cultural learning phenomena, as reported in a contribution by Francesca De Petrillo, researcher at the Institute for Advanced Study in Tolouse (IAST) and associated at Cnr-Istc, and Alexandra Rosati, professor at University of Michigan (USA) .
“One of the articles describes how various non-human primate species differ in their decision strategies when performing tests inspired by the game theory, as for instance in a simplified version of the stag hunt game where two players can catch a stag only by acting together, while ignoring each other’s decision. These species’ differences are probably due to interspecific differences in the inter-individual coordination skills”, reports the Cnr-Istc researcher. “Other articles focus on token exchange behavior: for instance, capuchin monkeys, when deciding what type of tokens they want to exchange, take into account both the quantity and the quality of the goods offered, maximizing their payoff. Along the same lines, wild macaques that live around the Balinese temple of Uluwatu daily exchange items stolen from tourists, such as glasses or cell phones, to obtain food treats. However, it is also described that non-human primates’ exchange behavior occurs rarely and only in particular situations, highlighting the uniqueness of human behavior with money”.
This Philosophical Transactions theme issue also reports an interesting direction for future research on primates’ decision-making. “Non-human primates’ behavior when faced with continuous decisions, which include repeated choices, confirms that the choice outcome is influenced by previous decisions and can, in turn, influence future ones, as it happens for an investor dealing with the fluctuations of the stock portfolio or for a hunter who must take into account the behavior of its prey”, concludes Addessi. “The articles of this collection, integrating for the first time an ethological approach with paradigms typical of neuroscience, represent an interdisciplinary basis for future evolutionary and comparative research programs and will allow a better understanding of human economic behavior and its anomalies”.
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- Collection of recent studies on the economic behaviors of non-human primates,Theme Issue on 'Philosophical Transactions' of the Royal Society B. 'Existence and prevalence of economic behaviours among non-human primates', compiled and edited by Elsa Addess