A Fruit in Hand is Worth Many More in the Bush: Steep Spatial Discounting by Free-Ranging Rhesus Macaques (Macaca mulatta)

Publication Type:
Journal Article
Year of Publication:
J. D. Kralik, W. W. L. Sampson
Behavioural Processes
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Decision making is one of the principal cognitive processes underlying goal-directed behaviour and thus there is justifiably strong interest in modeling it. However, many of these models have yet to be tested outside of the laboratory. At the same time, field work would benefit from the use of experimental methods developed in the laboratory to determine the causal relationships between environmental variables and behaviour. We therefore adapted a laboratory-derived experimental paradigm to test decision making in the wild. The experiment used an indifference-point procedure to determine the influence of both the amount and distance of food on choice behaviour. Free-ranging rhesus monkeys were given the choice between a smaller amount of food at a closer distance and a larger amount farther away. In four conditions, we held the closer amount constant across trials and varied the farther amount to determine the point at which the monkeys were indifferent to the choice alternatives. For example, in condition one, we used one piece of food at the closer location, and determined how many pieces would be equivalent in the farther location. Four different closer amounts were tested to obtain an indifference point curve, with the indifference amounts at the farther location plotted against the closer amounts. The slope of the obtained linear indifference curve was surprisingly high, suggesting that rhesus monkeys significantly discount food that is farther away. Possible reasons for this steep spatial discounting are discussed.


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