The evolution of irrational decision-making: insights from non-human primates


Despite our species’ impressive cognitive sophistication, adult humans are nevertheless notoriously bad at making normatively rational economic decisions. Much work has examined the nature of biased decisions such as framing effects, the endowment effect, and the peak-end principle in adult humans; however, research examining the origins of these biases is still in its infancy. This paper examines existing work on origins of economic biases – that is, whether these biases are shared with non-human primates. We survey recent work using a comparative approach to address the evolutionary origins of several classic biases, such as loss aversion, reference-dependence, the endowment effect and the peak-end principle. Novel evidence is provided that the peak-end principle – a bias involved in retrospective evaluations – is also found in capuchin monkeys. These studies suggest that such biases emerged long ago in our evolutionary history, and shed light on the psychological mechanisms behind biased decision-making.

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