Studies of animal impulsivity generally find steep subjective devaluation, or discounting, of delayed rewards - often on the order of a 50% reduction in value in a few seconds. Because such steep discounting is highly disfavored in evolutionary models of time preference, we hypothesize that discounting tasks provide a poor measure of animals' true time preferences. One prediction of this hypothesis is that estimates of time preferences based on these tasks will lack external validity, i.e. fail to predict time preferences in other contexts. We examined choices made by four rhesus monkeys in a computerized patch-leaving foraging task interleaved with a standard intertemporal choice task. Monkeys were significantly more patient in the foraging task than in the intertemporal choice task. Patch-leaving behavior was well fit by parameter-free optimal foraging equations but poorly fit by the hyperbolic discount parameter obtained from the intertemporal choice task. Day-to-day variation in time preferences across the two tasks was uncorrelated with each other. These data are consistent with the conjecture that seemingly impulsive behavior in animals is an artifact of their difficulty understanding the structure of intertemporal choice tasks, and support the idea that animals are more efficient rate maximizers in the multi-second range than intertemporal choice tasks would suggest.
Bibliographical notePublisher Copyright:
© 2015 Blanchard Hayden.