Risky business: Rhesus monkeys exhibit persistent preferences for risky options

Abstract

Rhesus monkeys have been shown to prefer risky over safe options in experiential decision-making tasks. These findings might be due, however, to specific contextual factors, such as small amounts of fluid reward and minimal costs for risk-taking.To better understand the factors affecting decision-making under risk in rhesus monkeys, we tested multiple factors designed to increase the stakes including larger reward amounts, distinct food items rather than fluid reward, a smaller number of trials per session, and risky options with greater variation that also included non-rewarded outcomes. We found a consistent preference for risky options, except when the expected value of the safe option was greater than the risky option. Thus, with equivalent mean utilities between the safe and risky options, rhesus monkeys appear to have a robust preference for the risky options in a broad range of circumstances, akin to the preferences found in human children and some adults in similar tasks. One account for this result is that monkeys make their choices based on the salience of the largest payoff, without integrating likelihood and value across trials. A related idea is that they fail to override an impulsive tendency to select the option with the potential to obtain the highest possible outcome. Our results rule out strict versions of both accounts and contribute to an understanding of the diversity of risky decision-making among primates. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2014 APA, all rights reserved) (journal abstract)Rhesus monkeys have been shown to prefer risky over safe options in experiential decision-making tasks. These findings might be due, however, to specific contextual factors, such as small amounts of fluid reward and minimal costs for risk-taking.To better understand the factors affecting decision-making under risk in rhesus monkeys, we tested multiple factors designed to increase the stakes including larger reward amounts, distinct food items rather than fluid reward, a smaller number of trials per session, and risky options with greater variation that also included non-rewarded outcomes. We found a consistent preference for risky options, except when the expected value of the safe option was greater than the risky option. Thus, with equivalent mean utilities between the safe and risky options, rhesus monkeys appear to have a robust preference for the risky options in a broad range of circumstances, akin to the preferences found in human children and some adults in similar tasks. One account for this result is that monkeys make their choices based on the salience of the largest payoff, without integrating likelihood and value across trials. A related idea is that they fail to override an impulsive tendency to select the option with the potential to obtain the highest possible outcome. Our results rule out strict versions of both accounts and contribute to an understanding of the diversity of risky decision-making among primates.

Problem with this document? Please report it to us.