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February 9, 2022

SOEP Brown Bag Seminar

Chimpanzee and human risk preferences show key similarities


February 9, 2022


Online seminar via Cisco Webex


Lou Haux, Max-Planck-Institut für Bildungsforschung (MPIB)
Risk preference impacts how people make key life decisions related to health, wealth, and wellbeing. Yet the evolutionary roots of human risk taking behavior remain poorly understood. I will present two studies on risk preferences in chimpanzees, one of our closest living relatives.
In the first study, we investigated whether chimpanzees (N=13) differentiate between social and nonsocial forms of uncertainty. Specifically, subjects participated in an experiment involving a social and a nonsocial condition: choosing the uncertain option resulted in access to high-value food, but only if the partner (social) or a machine (nonsocial) proved trustworthy. Our results suggest that chimpanzees are more averse to engaging in uncertain choices when the source of uncertainty is another chimpanzee than when it is a machine.
In the second study, we studied a large sample of chimpanzees (N=86) using a multimethod approach combining observer ratings (inspired by the general and domain specific SOEP–Risk–Items) with behavioral choice experiments. Our results show that chimpanzees’ willingness to take risks shares structural similarities with that of humans. First, chimpanzee risk preference manifests as a trait-like preference that is consistent across domains and measurements. Second, chimpanzees are ambiguity averse. Third, males are more risk prone than females. Fourth, the appetite for risk shows an inverted U–shape relation to age and peaks in young adulthood.
Taken together our findings suggest that key dimensions of risk preference emerge independently of the influence of human cultural evolution and thus may have deeper phylogenetic roots than previously suspected.