Evolutionary pressures on primate intertemporal choice

Jeffrey R. Stevens


From finding food to choosing mates, animals must make intertemporal choices that involve fitness benefits available at different times. Species vary dramatically in their willingness to wait for delayed rewards. Why does this variation across species exist? An adaptive approach to intertemporal choice suggests that time preferences should reflect the temporal problems faced in a species's environment. Here, I use phylogenetic regression to test whether allometric factors relating to body size, relative brain size and social group size predict how long 13 primate species will wait in laboratory intertemporal choice tasks. Controlling for phylogeny, a composite allometric factor that includes body mass, absolute brain size, lifespan and home range size predicted waiting times, but relative brain size and social group size did not. These findings support the notion that selective pressures have sculpted intertemporal choices to solve adaptive problems faced by animals. Collecting these types of data across a large number of species can provide key insights into the evolution of decision making and cognition.

  • Received March 1, 2014.
  • Accepted April 14, 2014.
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