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Monkeys and people treat risk and wealth the same

Posting in Science

Monkeys and humans make similar choices about risk and have the same sensitivity to wealth, according to a study published this month.

The study, published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, found "wealthy" monkeys made riskier choices, while "poor" ones made safer bets.

The study suggests that human sensitivities around affluence levels not only developed before the advent of money, they might have started with our primate cousins, reported Phys.org. In other words, risk analysis is genetic.

The upshot? Monkeys could serve as a model for human behavior and provide insight into the economic choices people make.

A team of researchers trained macaque monkeys and then used water intake as a measure of wealth. The macaques completed visual gambling tasks, associating pie graphs with various increments to the probability of rewards (aka water). Monkeys made their choice between a safe option, which guaranteed some water, and a risky choice that offered a big payout.

Thirsty monkeys made safer bets, while richer, more satiated ones took bigger gambles.

The behavior is similar to how humans act. For instance, wealthy individuals tend to take greater financial risks than their poorer counterparts as long as the potential reward is big enough.

Photo by Flickr user Kevin Jones

— By on September 11, 2013, 2:18 AM PST

Kirsten Korosec

Contributing Editor

Kirsten Korosec has written for Technology Review, Marketing News, The Hill, BNET and Bloomberg News. She holds a degree from Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism. She is based in Tucson, Arizona. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure