The evolutionary origins of human patience: Temporal preferences in chimpanzees, bonobos, and human adults

Rosati, A. G., Stevens, J. R., Hare, B., & Hauser, M. D. (2007). The evolutionary origins of human patience: Temporal preferences in chimpanzees, bonobos, and human adults. Current Biology, 17, 1663–1668.

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To make adaptive choices, individuals must sometimes exhibit patience, forgoing immediate benefits to acquire more valuable future rewards. Although humans account for future consequences when making temporal decisions, many animal species wait only a few seconds for delayed benefits. Current research thus suggests a phylogenetic gap between patient humans and impulsive, present-oriented animals, a distinction with implications for our understanding of economic decision making and the origins of human cooperation. On the basis of a series of experimental results, we reject this conclusion. First, bonobos (Pan paniscus) and chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes) exhibit a degree of patience not seen in other animals tested thus far. Second, humans are less willing to wait for food rewards than are chimpanzees. Third, humans are more willing to wait for monetary rewards than for food, and show the highest degree of patience only in response to decisions about money involving low opportunity costs. These findings suggest that core components of the capacity for future-oriented decisions evolved before the human lineage diverged from apes. Moreover, the different levels of patience that humans exhibit might be driven by fundamental differences in the mechanisms representing biological versus abstract rewards.