Get It While It's Hot: A Peak-First Bias in Self-Generated Choice Order in Rhesus Macaques

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Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences


Animals typically must make a number of successive choices to achieve a goal: e.g., eating multiple food items before becoming satiated. However, it is unclear whether choosing the best first or saving the best for last represents the best choice strategy to maximize overall reward. Specifically, since outcomes can be evaluated prospectively (with future rewards discounted and more immediate rewards preferred) or retrospectively (with prior rewards discounted and more recent rewards preferred), the conditions under which each are used remains unclear. On the one hand, humans and non-human animals clearly discount future reward, preferring immediate rewards to delayed ones, suggesting prospective evaluation; on the other hand, it has also been shown that a sequence that ends well, i.e., with the best event or item last, is often preferred, suggesting retrospective evaluation. Here we hypothesized that when individuals are allowed to build the sequence themselves they are more likely to evaluate each item individually and therefore build a sequence using prospective evaluation. We examined the relationship between self-generated choice order and preference in rhesus monkeys in two experiments in which the distinctiveness of options were relatively high and low, respectively. We observed a positive linear relationship between choice order and preference among highly distinct options, indicating that the rhesus monkeys chose their preferred food first: i.e., a peak-first order preference. Overall, choice order depended on the degree of relative preference among alternatives and a peak-first bias, providing evidence for prospective evaluation when choice order is self-generated.