Temporal Discounting Predicts Risk Sensitivity in Rhesus Macaques

Benjamin Y. Hayden, Michael L. Platt

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

99 Scopus citations


Humans and animals tend both to avoid uncertainty and to prefer immediate over future rewards. The comorbidity of psychiatric disorders such as impulsivity, problem gambling, and addiction suggests that a common mechanism may underlie risk sensitivity and temporal discounting [1-6]. Nonetheless, the precise relationship between these two traits remains largely unknown [3, 5]. To examine whether risk sensitivity and temporal discounting reflect a common process, we recorded choices made by two rhesus macaques in a visual gambling task [7] while we varied the delay between trials. We found that preference for the risky option declined with increasing delay between sequential choices in the task, even when all other task parameters were held constant. These results were quantitatively predicted by a model that assumed that the subjective expected utility of the risky option is evaluated based on the expected time of the larger payoff [5, 6]. The importance of the larger payoff in this model suggests that the salience of larger payoffs played a critical role in determining the value of risky options. These data suggest that risk sensitivity may be a product of other cognitive processes, and specifically that myopia for the future and the salience of jackpots control the propensity to take a gamble.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)49-53
Number of pages5
JournalCurrent Biology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 9 2007
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We thank G. Madden (University of Kansas) for discussions that led to the development of this project. This work was supported by the National Institute of Health.




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