Self-control tasks used with nonhuman animals typically involve the choice between an immediate option and a delayed, but more preferred option. However, in many self-control scenarios, not only does the more impulsive option come sooner in time, it is often more concrete than the delayed option. For example, studies have presented children with the option of eating a visible marshmallow immediately, or foregoing it for a better reward that can only be seen later. Thus, the immediately available option is visible and concrete, whereas the delayed option is not visible and more abstract. We tested eight capuchin monkeys to better understand this potential effect by manipulating the visibility of the response options and the visibility of the baiting itself. Monkeys observed two food items (20 or 5 g pieces of banana) each being placed either on top of or inside of one of the two opaque containers attached to a revolving tray apparatus, either in full view of monkeys or occluded by a barrier. Trials ended when monkeys removed a reward from the rotating tray.
To demonstrate self-control, monkeys should have allowed the smaller piece of food to pass if the larger piece was forthcoming. Overall, monkeys were successful on the task, allowing a smaller, visible piece of banana to pass from reach in order to access the larger, nonvisible banana piece. This was true even when the entire baiting process took place out of sight of the monkeys. This finding suggests that capuchin monkeys succeed on self-control tasks even when the delayed option is also more abstract than the immediate one—a situation likely faced by primates in everyday life.
Self-control Capuchin monkeys Delay of gratification Inhibition
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Conflict of interest
This study complies with the ethical standards for research in the USA.
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