Animal Cognition

, Volume 18, Issue 1, pp 119–130 | Cite as

Do tufted capuchin monkeys play the odds? Flexible risk preferences in Sapajus spp.

  • Francesca De Petrillo
  • Marialba Ventricelli
  • Giorgia Ponsi
  • Elsa AddessiEmail author
Original Paper


As humans, several non-human animal species avoid risk, defined as “variability in rate of gain”. However, non-human primate studies revealed a more complicated picture, with different species ranging from risk aversion to risk proneness. Within an ecological rationality framework, a species’ feeding ecology should influence its risk preferences, as it has been shown in bonobos and chimpanzees. Although the feeding ecology hypothesis is promising, it has not been yet verified in species other than apes. Here, we aimed to assess whether this hypothesis holds true in tufted capuchin monkeys (Sapajus spp.). Ten capuchins were presented with choices between a “safe” option and a “risky” option in three conditions differing for the probability of receiving the larger reward when selecting the risky option. Similarly to chimpanzees, capuchins were risk prone. However, capuchins’ behaviour was not the result of a bias towards the choice of the risky option, since—when facing options with different probabilities of obtaining the larger outcome—they were able to flexibly modify their preferences. Capuchins’ decision-making under risk mirrors their risk-prone behaviour in the wild, where they often rely on unpredictable and/or hazardous food sources, thus satisfying the feeding ecology hypothesis.


Decision-making Risk Capuchin monkeys Non-human primates 



We thank Maria Bobbio and Luca Marino for help with data collection. We especially thank Fabio Paglieri, Gabriele Schino, and Elisabetta Visalberghi for constructive discussions and valuable comments and Dan Ariely for his fundamental support. We also thank Roma Capitale-Museo Civico di Zoologia and the Fondazione Bioparco for hosting the ISTC-CNR Unit of Cognitive Primatology and Primate Centre, and Massimiliano Bianchi and Simone Catarinacci for assistance with capuchins. This study was funded by the PNR-CNR Aging Program 2012–2014.

Supplementary material

Supplementary material Movie 1. Experiment 1, Neutral condition. Robin hood, a male capuchin, is presented with the choice between a “safe” option (four food items covered by the white bowl, on the experimenter’s left) and a “risky” option (in this case, one food item covered by the red bowl, on the experimenter’s right). He chooses the “safe” option by inserting his finger in the hole of the corresponding transparent box and the experimenter provides him with the food. (MPG 56796 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  • Francesca De Petrillo
    • 1
    • 2
  • Marialba Ventricelli
    • 1
    • 3
  • Giorgia Ponsi
    • 1
    • 4
    • 5
  • Elsa Addessi
    • 1
    Email author
  1. 1.Unità di Primatologia Cognitiva e Centro Primati, Istituto di Scienze e Tecnologie della CognizioneCNRRomeItaly
  2. 2.Dipartimento di Biologia Ambientale“Sapienza” Università di RomaRomeItaly
  3. 3.Dipartimento di Biologia e Biotecnologie “Charles Darwin”“Sapienza” Università di RomaRomeItaly
  4. 4.Dipartimento di Psicologia“Sapienza” Università di RomaRomeItaly
  5. 5.Fondazione Santa Lucia IRCCSRomeItaly

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