Chimps Make Emotional Choices Too!

In the 1960’s Stanford University did a study on children and their ability to make choices specifically in regards to instant gratification.  It is known as the Marshmallow Experiment.

According to  Stanford wanted to know how humans handled delayed gratification but that also raised the question of how other species close to humans would handle the same circumstances.

Psychologists and economists have found that emotions play a critical role in shaping how humans make complex decisions, such as decisions about saving or investing money. But it was not known if these processes are shared with other animals when they make decisions about their important resources—such as food,” said Alexandra Rosati, from Yale University stated.

In a modified version of Stanford’s “Marshmallow Experiment”, Rosati and Brian Hare from Duke University have studied the same effects on chimpanzees and Bonobo monkeys in Africa, observing the emotional responses of these animals to understand how they make their decisions.

In their experiment the animals were given a choice to eat one piece of food now or three pieces of food later.  Both bonobos and chimps displayed some kind of emotional response after making their choice, either pouting because they had to wait for their food or lamenting their choice of instant gratification.

In another experiment, Hare and Rosati let the animals choose a better tasting treat, but they may have been given a less than favorable treat if their gamble did not pay off. In this experiment, some of the animals even tried to change their minds in the middle of the test once they were given the unsavory treat.

Further research needs to be conducted to understand if these emotional responses can affect the animal’s choices, but Rosati and Hare did say their experiment proved that apes do express emotion when they’re faced with choices. This also adds to the long and ongoing list of similarities between humans and primates.

 What are your thoughts on this experiment? What does it say about the nature of emotion?


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