Animal Cognition

, Volume 15, Issue 6, pp 1161–1172 | Cite as

Time preferences in long-tailed macaques (Macaca fascicularis) and humans (Homo sapiens)

  • Emilie Genty
  • Heather Karpel
  • Alan Silberberg
Original Paper


Rosati et al. (Curr Biol 17(19):1663–1668, 2007) found in a self-control test in which choice was between a smaller, immediately delivered food and a larger, delayed food, that chimpanzees preferred the larger reward (self-control); humans, however, preferred the smaller reward (impulsivity). They attributed their results to a species difference in self-control. In Experiment 1, monkeys (long-tailed macaques) were exposed to a self-control task in two conditions: where the food was hidden under differently colored bowls and where it was visible. When these two conditions were compared, choice shifted from greater preference for the impulsive alternative in the hidden condition to greater preference for the self-control alternative in the visible condition. Additionally, in both conditions, preference shifted from self-control to impulsivity over sessions. These results were explained in terms of the reversed-contingency effect (a propensity to reach for more over less when rewards are visible) and not to a capacity for self-control. In Experiment 2, humans that demonstrated preference for more over less in choice preferred the impulsive alternative when choice to either alternative was followed by the same intertrial interval—a preference that accelerates trial rates relative to preference of the self-control alternative. When trial rates were equated so that neither choice accelerated session’s end, humans demonstrated self-control. These results suggest that Rosati et al.’s demonstration of impulsivity in humans was due to participants’ desire to minimize session time.


Self-control Impulsivity Time preference Delay of gratification Macaca fascicularis Human 



We thank Christelle Gandon for her considerable help in conducting Experiment 1.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Centre de Primatologie de l’Université de StrasbourgStrasbourgFrance
  2. 2.Department of PsychologyAmerican UniversityWashingtonUSA

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