Apes Get Emotional When Choices Don't Pan Out

Primates pouted and threw tantrums in study

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WEDNESDAY, May 29, 2013 (HealthDay News) -- Just like some people, apes have emotional responses to the outcomes of their decisions, researchers say.

Chimpanzees and bonobos living in African sanctuaries sometimes became angry and had a tantrum or pouted when a risky move failed to go their way, according to the results of a study published May 29 in the journal PLoS ONE.

"Psychologists and economists have found that emotions play a critical role in shaping how humans make complex decisions, such as decisions about saving or investing money," study co-author, Alexandra Rosati of Yale University, said in a journal news release. "But it was not known if these processes are shared with other animals when they make decisions about their important resources -- such as food."

The apes involved in the study were presented with two different challenges. In one, the apes had to decide if they would wait to receive a larger reward. In the second challenge, the apes had to decide if they would take a chance to receive a high-quality treat but also risk getting a food item they didn't like if their gamble didn't pan out.

Although chimpanzees were more patient and likely to take risks than bonobos, the researchers found that both species of apes showed emotional responses to the outcome of their choice.

When the apes' risk didn't produce their desired result, both species had negative emotional responses including vocalizations similar to pouts and moans, scratching and banging. This behavior is a type of tantrum believed to be associated with anger in apes, the study authors noted. Some of the responses displayed by the apes were not specific to a species and reflected individual differences in the animals.

In the gamble-taking challenge, the chimpanzees and bonobos tried to change their mind after they realized their decision was not going to work out in their favor, the researchers pointed out.

More research is needed to determine whether the apes' emotional responses to outcomes of their decisions can change or influence their choices and decisions in the future, the study authors said.

More information

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SOURCE: PLoS ONE, news release, May 29, 2013


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