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There is great interest in the evolution of economic behavior. In typical studies, species are asked to play one of a series of economic games, derived from game theory, and their responses are compared. The advantage of this approach is the relative level of consistency and control that emerges from the games themselves; however in the typical experiment, procedures and conditions differ widely, particularly between humans and other species. Thus, in the current study we investigated how three primate species, capuchin monkeys, chimpanzees, and humans, played the Assurance (or Stag Hunt) Game using procedures which were, to the best of our ability, the same across species, particularly with respect to training and pre-testing. Our goal was to determine what, if any, differences existed in the ways in which these species made decisions in this game. We hypothesized differences along phylogenetic lines, which we found. However, the species were more similar than might be expected. In particular, humans who played using ‘non-human primate-friendly’ rules did not behave as is typical. Thus, we find evidence for similarity in decision-making processes across the Order Primates. These results indicate that such comparative studies are possible and moreover that in any comparison rating species’ relative abilities, extreme care must be taken in ensuring that one species does not have an advantage over the others due to methodological procedures.


This article was originally published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States. Copyright © 2011 National Academy of Sciences.

The post-peer-reviewed version is available here with permission of the author.

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