Gambling for Gatorade: risk-sensitive decision making for fluid rewards in humans

Anim Cogn. 2009 Jan;12(1):201-7. doi: 10.1007/s10071-008-0186-8. Epub 2008 Aug 22.


Determining how both humans and animals make decisions in risky situations is a central problem in economics, experimental psychology, behavioral economics, and neurobiology. Typically, humans are risk seeking for gains and risk averse for losses, while animals may display a variety of preferences under risk depending on, amongst other factors, internal state. Such differences in behavior may reflect major cognitive and cultural differences or they may reflect differences in the way risk sensitivity is probed in humans and animals. Notably, in most studies humans make one or a few choices amongst hypothetical or real monetary options, while animals make dozens of repeated choices amongst options offering primary rewards like food or drink. To address this issue, we probed risk-sensitive decision making in human participants using a paradigm modeled on animal studies, in which rewards were either small squirts of Gatorade or small amounts of real money. Possible outcomes and their probabilities were not made explicit in either case. We found that individual patterns of decision making were strikingly similar for both juice and for money, both in overall risk preferences and in trial-to-trial effects of reward outcome on choice. Comparison with decisions made by monkeys for juice in a similar task revealed highly similar gambling styles. These results unite known patterns of risk-sensitive decision making in human and nonhuman primates and suggest that factors such as the way a decision is framed or internal state may underlie observed variation in risk preferences between and within species.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Beverages
  • Choice Behavior*
  • Decision Making*
  • Discrimination, Psychological*
  • Female
  • Gambling / psychology*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Reference Values
  • Reward*
  • Risk Assessment
  • Young Adult