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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Are Monkeys Sensitive to the Regularity of Pay-off?


Animals commonly face fluctuations in their environment and resources. To maximize their benefits,they need to integrate the risks attached to potential pay-offs. We do not know, however, to what extent individuals account for irregularity in the latter. We tested the sensitivity of monkeys (Cebusapella, Macaca tonkeana, M. fascicularis) to the irregularity of pay-offs in two different tasks. In a first experiment, the subjects were given an exchange task where the reward probability varied between different conditions, but yielded the same average pay-off. There was no evidence of subjects favoring either condition, meaning that they behaved in accordance with the predictions ofthe classical decision theory (Expected Utility Theory). In a second experiment, we offered to subjects a choice between two options involving different pay-off regularity. In this case, a wide range of inter-individual variation was found in the choices of individuals. Whereas monkeys accepted irregular pay-off in a rational way, there were individual biases in their preferences. These results indicate that the preferences of animals in a risky situation were not unequivocally shaped by the environment in which species have evolved.

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