Temporal discounting predicts risk sensitivity in rhesus macaques

Curr Biol. 2007 Jan 9;17(1):49-53. doi: 10.1016/j.cub.2006.10.055.


Humans and animals tend both to avoid uncertainty and to prefer immediate over future rewards. The comorbidity of psychiatric disorders such as impulsivity, problem gambling, and addiction suggests that a common mechanism may underlie risk sensitivity and temporal discounting. Nonetheless, the precise relationship between these two traits remains largely unknown. To examine whether risk sensitivity and temporal discounting reflect a common process, we recorded choices made by two rhesus macaques in a visual gambling task while we varied the delay between trials. We found that preference for the risky option declined with increasing delay between sequential choices in the task, even when all other task parameters were held constant. These results were quantitatively predicted by a model that assumed that the subjective expected utility of the risky option is evaluated based on the expected time of the larger payoff. The importance of the larger payoff in this model suggests that the salience of larger payoffs played a critical role in determining the value of risky options. These data suggest that risk sensitivity may be a product of other cognitive processes, and specifically that myopia for the future and the salience of jackpots control the propensity to take a gamble.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Gambling / psychology*
  • Impulsive Behavior / psychology
  • Macaca mulatta
  • Male
  • Risk
  • Time Factors