Ecological variation in decision-making: insight from non-human primates

Francesca De Petrillo

December 4, 2018, 12:45–13:45


Room MS003

IAST Lunch Seminar


Over the past few decades, research had revealed that humans and animals defy classical notions of economic “rationality” when making decisions. Why do many species deviate from rational choice predictions, and what governs the variation in decision-making strategies seen in the natural world? Here I propose convergent evolution as a new tool for detecting the signature of evolution, by identifying which ecological pressures forced the emergence of similar decision strategies in distantly-related species. To this end, I present empirical evidence of convergence in the economic preferences of apes and capuchin monkeys, in decision context involving temporal delays and risk. In particular, both chimpanzees and capuchin monkeys exhibit high tolerance to delays and strong preference for risky option. These similarities suggest that animals evolve strategies combining high levels of patience with risk-seeking behaviors when they live in costly, variable natural environments. Identifying which are the evolutionary pressures that engendered the emergence of specific decision strategies can shed light into the adaptive nature of human economical irrationality.