Evolutionary pressures on primate intertemporal choice

Jeffrey R. Stevens

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

46 Scopus citations


From finding food to choosing mates, animals must make intertemporal choices that involve fitness benefits available at different times. Species vary dramatically in their willingness to wait for delayed rewards. Why does this variation across species exist? An adaptive approach to intertemporal choice suggests that time preferences should reflect the temporal problems faced in a species's environment. Here, I use phylogenetic regression to test whether allometric factors relating to body size, relative brain size and social group size predict how long 13 primate species will wait in laboratory intertemporal choice tasks. Controlling for phylogeny, a composite allometric factor that includes body mass, absolute brain size, lifespan and home range size predicted waiting times, but relative brain size and social group size did not. These findings support the notion that selective pressures have sculpted inter-temporal choicesto solve adaptive problems faced byanimals. Collecting these types of data across a large number of species can provide key insights into the evolution of decision making and cognition.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number20140499
JournalProceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Issue number1786
StatePublished - 2014


  • Allometry
  • Brain size
  • Decision making
  • Intertemporal choice
  • Primates
  • Social group size

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
  • Immunology and Microbiology(all)
  • Environmental Science(all)
  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)


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