Variation in primate decision-making under uncertainty and the roots of human economic behaviour

Francesca De Petrillo, and Alexandra Rosati


Uncertainty is a ubiquitous component of human economic behaviour, yet people can vary in their preferences for risk across populations, individuals and different points in time. As uncertainty also characterizes many aspects of animal decision-making, comparative research can help evaluate different potential mechanisms that generate this variation, including the role of biological differences or maturational change versus cultural learning, as well as identify human-unique components of economic decision-making. Here, we examine decision-making under risk across non-human primates, our closest relatives. We first review theoretical approaches and current methods for understanding decision-making in animals. We then assess the current evidence for variation in animal preferences between species and populations, between individuals based on personality, sex and age, and finally, between different contexts and individual states. We then use these primate data to evaluate the processes that can shape human decision-making strategies and identify the primate foundations of human economic behaviour.

Published in

Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, vol. 376, n. 1819, March 2021