Multi-stage mental process for economic choice in capuchins

Camillo Padoa-Schioppa, Lucia Jandolo, Elisabetta Visalberghi

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

33 Scopus citations


We studied economic choice behavior in capuchin monkeys by offering them to choose between two different foods available in variable amounts. When monkeys selected between familiar foods, their choice patterns were well-described in terms of relative value of the two foods. A leading view in economics and biology is that such behavior results from stimulus-response associations acquired through experience. According to this view, values are not psychologically real; they can only be defined a posteriori. One prediction of this associative model is that animals faced for the first time with a new pair of foods learn to choose between them gradually. We tested this prediction. Surprisingly, we find that monkeys choose as effectively between new pairs of foods as they choose between familiar pairs of foods. We therefore, propose a cognitive model in which economic choice results from a two-stage mental process of value-assignment and decision-making. In a follow-up experiment, we find that the relative value assigned to three foods in sessions in which we tested them against each other combine according to transitivity.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)B1-B13
Issue number1
StatePublished - Feb 2006


  • Behavioral economics
  • Decision making
  • Monkey
  • Value assignment


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