In humans, the capacity for economically rational choice is constrained by a variety of preference biases: humans evaluate gambles relative to arbitrary reference points; weigh losses heavier than equally sized gains; and demand a higher price for owned goods than for equally preferred goods that are not yet owned. To date, however, fewer studies have examined the origins of these biases. Here, we review previous work demonstrating that human economic biases such as loss aversion and reference dependence are shared with an ancestrally related New World primate, the capuchin monkey (Cebus apella). We then examine whether capuchins display an endowment effect in a token-trading task. We identified pairs of treats (fruit discs versus cereal chunks) that were equally preferred by each monkey. When given a chance to trade away their owned fruit discs to obtain the equally valued cereal chunks (or vice versa), however, monkeys required a far greater compensation than the equally preferred treat. We show that these effects are not due to transaction costs or timing issues. These data suggest that biased preferences rely on cognitive systems that are more evolutionarily ancient than previously thought-and that common evolutionary ancestry shared by humans and capuchins may account for the occurrence of the endowment effect in both species.
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