Macaques are risk-averse in a freely moving foraging task

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Rhesus macaques (Macaca mulatta) appear to be robustly risk-seeking in computerized gambling tasks typically used for electrophysiology. This behavior distinguishes them from many other animals, which are risk-averse, albeit measured in more naturalistic contexts. We wondered whether macaques’ risk preferences reflect their evolutionary history or derive from the less naturalistic elements of task design associated with the demands of physiological recording. We assessed macaques’ risk attitudes in a task that is somewhat more naturalistic than many that have previously been used: subjects foraged at four feeding stations in a large enclosure. Patches (i.e., stations), provided either stochastically or non-stochastically depleting rewards. Subjects’ patch residence times were longer at safe than at risky stations, indicating a preference for safe options. This preference was not attributable to a win-stay-lose-shift heuristic and reversed as the environmental richness increased. These findings highlight the lability of risk attitudes in macaques and support the hypothesis that the ecological validity of a task can influence the expression of risk preference.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number15091
JournalScientific reports
Issue number1
StatePublished - Dec 1 2019

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This research was supported by a National Institute on Drug Abuse Grant R01 DA038106 to BYH, a NIH T32 to BRE and the UMN DTI and AIRP to BYH and JZ.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2019, The Author(s).


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