Study of 13 primate species links 'intertemporal choice' to natural selection
A chimpanzee will wait more than two minutes to eat six grapes, but a black lemur would rather eat two grapes now than wait any longer than 15 seconds for a bigger serving.
Jeffrey Stevens is an assistant professor of psychology; Adaptive Decision Making Laboratory; Center for Brain, Biology and Behavior; University of Nebraska-Lincoln.
Credit: Craig Chandler/University Communications, University of Nebraska-Lincoln
It's an echo of the dilemma human beings face with a long line at a posh restaurant. How long are they willing to wait for the five-star meal? Or do they head to a greasy spoon to eat sooner?
A paper published today in the scientific journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B explores the evolutionary reasons why some primate species wait for a bigger reward, while others are more likely to grab what they can get immediately.
"Natural selection has shaped levels of patience to deal with the types of problems that animals face in the wild," said author Jeffrey R. Stevens, a comparative psychologist at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and the study's lead author. "Those problems are species-specific, so levels of patience are also species-specific."
Studying 13 primate species, from massive gorillas to tiny marmosets, Stevens compared species' characteristics with their capacity for "intertemporal choice." That's a scientific term for what some might call patience, self-control or delayed gratification.
He found the species with bigger body mass, bigger brains, longer lifespans and larger home ranges also tend to wait longer for a bigger reward.
Chimpanzees, which typically weigh about 85 pounds, live nearly 60 years and range about 35 square miles, waited for a reward for about two minutes, the longest of any of the primate species studied. Cotton-top tamarins, which weigh less than a pound and live about 23 years, waited about eight seconds before opting for a smaller, immediate reward.
The findings are based partially on experiments Stevens performed during the past ten years with lemurs, marmosets, tamarins, chimpanzees and bonobos at Harvard's Department of Psychology and at the Berlin and Leipzig zoos in Germany. In those experiments, individual animals chose between a tray containing two grapes that they could eat immediately and a tray containing six grapes they could eat after waiting. The wait times were gradually increased until the animal reached an "indifference point" when it opted for the smaller, immediate reward instead of waiting.
Stevens combined those results with those of scientists who performed similar experiments with other primates. He scoured primate-research literature to gather data on the biological characteristics of each species.
In addition to characteristics related to body mass, Stevens analyzed but found no correlation with two other hypotheses for patience: cognitive ability and social complexity.
"In humans, the ability to wait for delayed rewards correlates with higher performance in cognitive measures such as IQ, academic success, standardized test scores and working memory capacity," he wrote. "The cognitive ability hypothesis predicts that species with higher levels of cognition should wait longer than those with lower levels."
But Stevens found no correlation between patience levels and an animal's relative brain size compared to its body size, the measure he used to quantify cognitive ability.
Researchers also have argued that animals in complex social groups have reduced impulsivity and more patience to adapt to the social hierarchies of dominance and submission. But Stevens did not find correlations between species' social group sizes and their patience levels.
Stevens said he believes metabolic rates may be the driving factor connecting patience with body mass and related physical characteristics. Smaller animals tend to have higher metabolic rates.
"You need fuel and you need it at a certain rate," he said. "The faster you need it, the shorter time you will wait."
Metabolic rates also may factor in human beings' willingness to wait. Stevens said human decisions about food, their environment, their health care and even their finances all relate to future payoffs. The mental processes behind those decisions have not yet been well identified.
"To me, this offers us interesting avenues to start thinking about what factors might influence human patience," he said. "What does natural selection tell us about decision making? That applies to humans as well as to other animals."
Jeffrey R. Stevens | Eurek Alert!
New study: How does Europe become a leading player for software and IT services?
03.04.2017 | Fraunhofer-Institut für System- und Innovationsforschung (ISI)
Reusable carbon nanotubes could be the water filter of the future, says RIT study
30.03.2017 | Rochester Institute of Technology
Two-dimensional magnetic structures are regarded as a promising material for new types of data storage, since the magnetic properties of individual molecular building blocks can be investigated and modified. For the first time, researchers have now produced a wafer-thin ferrimagnet, in which molecules with different magnetic centers arrange themselves on a gold surface to form a checkerboard pattern. Scientists at the Swiss Nanoscience Institute at the University of Basel and the Paul Scherrer Institute published their findings in the journal Nature Communications.
Ferrimagnets are composed of two centers which are magnetized at different strengths and point in opposing directions. Two-dimensional, quasi-flat ferrimagnets...
An Australian-Chinese research team has created the world's thinnest hologram, paving the way towards the integration of 3D holography into everyday...
In the race to produce a quantum computer, a number of projects are seeking a way to create quantum bits -- or qubits -- that are stable, meaning they are not much affected by changes in their environment. This normally needs highly nonlinear non-dissipative elements capable of functioning at very low temperatures.
In pursuit of this goal, researchers at EPFL's Laboratory of Photonics and Quantum Measurements LPQM (STI/SB), have investigated a nonlinear graphene-based...
Dental plaque and the viscous brown slime in drainpipes are two familiar examples of bacterial biofilms. Removing such bacterial depositions from surfaces is...
For the first time, scientists have succeeded in studying the strength of hydrogen bonds in a single molecule using an atomic force microscope. Researchers from the University of Basel’s Swiss Nanoscience Institute network have reported the results in the journal Science Advances.
Hydrogen is the most common element in the universe and is an integral part of almost all organic compounds. Molecules and sections of macromolecules are...
22.05.2017 | Event News
17.05.2017 | Event News
16.05.2017 | Event News
22.05.2017 | Materials Sciences
22.05.2017 | Life Sciences
22.05.2017 | Physics and Astronomy