Anything for a cheerio: Brown capuchins (Sapajus [Cebus] apella) consistently coordinate in an Assurance Game for unequal payoffs

Robinson, L.M.; Martínez, M.; Leverett, K.L.; Rossettie, M.S.; Wilson, B.J.; Brosnan, S.F.

American Journal of Primatology 83(10): E23321


ISSN/ISBN: 1098-2345
PMID: 34435690
Accession: 071291651

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Unequal outcomes disrupt cooperation in some situations, but this has not been tested in the context of coordination in economic games. To explore this, we tested brown capuchins (Sapajus [Cebus] apella) on a manual version of the Stag Hunt (or Assurance) Game, in which individuals sequentially chose between two options, Stag or Hare, and were rewarded according to their choices and that of their partner. Typically, coordination on Stag results in an equal highest payout, whereas coordinating on Hare results in a guaranteed equal but lower payoff and uncoordinated play results in the lowest payoff when playing Stag. We varied this structure such that one capuchin received double the rewards for the coordinated Stag outcome; thus, it was still both animals' best option, but no longer equally rewarding. Despite the inequality, capuchins coordinated on Stag in 78% of trials, and neither payoff structure nor their partner's choice impacted their decision. Additionally, there was no relationship between self-scratching, a measure of stress in capuchins, and choices. After completing the study, we discovered our reward, cheerios, was sufficiently valuable that in another study, capuchins never refused it, so post hoc we repeated the study using a lower value reward, banana flavored pellets. Capuchins completed only 26% of the pellet trials (compared to 98% with cheerios), constraining our ability to interpret the results, but nonetheless the monkeys showed a decrease in preference for Stag, particularly when they received fewer rewards for the coordinated Stag outcome. These results reinforce capuchins' ability to find coordinated outcomes in the Stag Hunt game, but more work is needed to determine whether the monkeys did not mind the inequality or were unwilling to sacrifice a highly preferred food to rectify it. In either case, researchers should carefully consider the impact of their chosen rewards on subjects' choices.