Michael J. Beran, Ph.D.
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Last updated: 
September 1, 2021

 

Paglieri, F., Focaroli, V., Bramlett, J., Tierno, V., McIntyre, J., Addessi, E., Evans, T. A., & Beran, M. J. (2013).  The hybrid delay task: Can capuchin monkeys (Cebus apella) sustain a delay after an initial choice to do so? Behavioural Processes, 94, 45-54.

Choosing to wait for a better outcome (delay choice) and sustaining the delay prior to that outcome (delay maintenance) are both prerequisites for successful self-control in inter-temporal choices. However, most existing experimental methods test these skills in isolation from each other, and no significant correlation has been observed in performance across these tasks. In this study we introduce a new paradigm, the hybrid delay task, which combines an initial delay choice with a subsequent delay maintenance stage. This allows testing how often choosing to wait is paired with the actual ability to do so. We tested 18 capuchin monkeys (Cebus apella) from two laboratories in various conditions, and we found that subjects frequently chose the delayed reward but then failed to wait for it, due to poor delay maintenance. However, performance improved with experience and different behavioral responses for error correction were evident. These findings have far reaching implications: if such a high error rate was observed also in other species (possibly including Homo sapiens), this may indicate that delay choice tasks that make use of salient, prepotent stimuli do not reliably assess generalized self-control, insofar as choosing to wait does not entail always being able to do so.

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