A powerful approach to understanding decision-making is to utilize the methodology of experimental economics. Economic games derived from experimental economics provide opportunities to better understand how and why individuals make the decisions that they do. This approach is of particular utility to comparative researchers. One common challenge to comparative research is that studies may not be comparable due to methodological differences, minimizing the effectiveness of the comparative approach and providing little insight into the evolution of the behaviors. Utilizing an experimental economics approach allows for a standardized methodology that is comparable not only between non-human species, but also to humans. This allows for more profound insight in to the evolution of decision-making behavior.
A current project in the CEBUS lab compares three species of nonhuman primates and humans in their response to the Assurance game, a coordination game derived from experimental economics. We are currently investigating whether these species will coordinate when given the opportunity to do so and how factors such as partner identity, equity in payoffs, and the context of the task affect their performance. This research is being done jointly at the Language Research Center of GSU and with Bart Wilson at the Economic Science Institute of Chapman University. We have also adapted a protocol designed to test for the endowment effect in humans for apes, and have discovered that this decision-making bias exists in all of these primates. We are currently expanding this line of inquiry to investigate responses in other economic games, in order to learn more about the evolution of decision making across the primates.