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Primates and patience -- the evolutionary roots of self control
Date:5/13/2014

Lincoln, Neb., May 14, 2014 A chimpanzee will wait more than two minutes to eat six grapes, but a black lemur would rather eat two grapes now than wait any longer than 15 seconds for a bigger serving.

It's an echo of the dilemma human beings face with a long line at a posh restaurant. How long are they willing to wait for the five-star meal? Or do they head to a greasy spoon to eat sooner?

A paper published today in the scientific journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B explores the evolutionary reasons why some primate species wait for a bigger reward, while others are more likely to grab what they can get immediately.

"Natural selection has shaped levels of patience to deal with the types of problems that animals face in the wild," said author Jeffrey R. Stevens, a comparative psychologist at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and the study's lead author. "Those problems are species-specific, so levels of patience are also species-specific."

Studying 13 primate species, from massive gorillas to tiny marmosets, Stevens compared species' characteristics with their capacity for "intertemporal choice." That's a scientific term for what some might call patience, self-control or delayed gratification.

He found the species with bigger body mass, bigger brains, longer lifespans and larger home ranges also tend to wait longer for a bigger reward.

Chimpanzees, which typically weigh about 85 pounds, live nearly 60 years and range about 35 square miles, waited for a reward for about two minutes, the longest of any of the primate species studied. Cotton-top tamarins, which weigh less than a pound and live about 23 years, waited about eight seconds before opting for a smaller, immediate reward.

The findings are based partially on experiments Stevens performed during the past ten years with lemurs, marmosets, tamari
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Contact: Jeffrey R. Stevens
jstevens5@unl.edu
402-472-1840
University of Nebraska-Lincoln
Source:Eurekalert  

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