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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 that were, to the best of our ability, the same across species, particularly with respect to training and pretesting. 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 “nonhuman 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 Proceedings of the National Academy of the United States of America, volume 108, issue 8, in 2011. DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1016269108

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National Academy of Sciences