Economic choices reveal probability distortion in macaque monkeys.
Stauffer WR., Lak A., Bossaerts P., Schultz W.
Economic choices are largely determined by two principal elements, reward value (utility) and probability. Although nonlinear utility functions have been acknowledged for centuries, nonlinear probability weighting (probability distortion) was only recently recognized as a ubiquitous aspect of real-world choice behavior. Even when outcome probabilities are known and acknowledged, human decision makers often overweight low probability outcomes and underweight high probability outcomes. Whereas recent studies measured utility functions and their corresponding neural correlates in monkeys, it is not known whether monkeys distort probability in a manner similar to humans. Therefore, we investigated economic choices in macaque monkeys for evidence of probability distortion. We trained two monkeys to predict reward from probabilistic gambles with constant outcome values (0.5 ml or nothing). The probability of winning was conveyed using explicit visual cues (sector stimuli). Choices between the gambles revealed that the monkeys used the explicit probability information to make meaningful decisions. Using these cues, we measured probability distortion from choices between the gambles and safe rewards. Parametric modeling of the choices revealed classic probability weighting functions with inverted-S shape. Therefore, the animals overweighted low probability rewards and underweighted high probability rewards. Empirical investigation of the behavior verified that the choices were best explained by a combination of nonlinear value and nonlinear probability distortion. Together, these results suggest that probability distortion may reflect evolutionarily preserved neuronal processing.