To succeed in a dynamically changing world, animals need to predict their environments. Humans, in fact, exhibit such a strong desire for consistency that one of the most well-established findings in social psychology is the effort people make to maintain consistency among their beliefs, attitudes, and behavior. However, displeasure with unpredictability leads to a potential paradox, because a positive outcome that exceeds one’s expectations often leads to increased subjective value and positive affect, not the opposite. We tested the hypothesis that two evolutionarily-conserved evaluation processes underlie goal-directed behavior: (1) consistency, concerned with prediction errors, and (2) valuation, concerned with outcome utility. Rhesus monkeys (Macaca mulatta) viewed a food item and then were offered an identical, better, or worse food, which they could accept or reject. The monkeys ultimately accepted all offers, attesting to the influence of the valuation process. However, they were slower to accept the unexpected offers, and they exhibited aversive reactions, especially to the better-than-expected offers, repeatedly turning their heads and looking away before accepting the food item. Our findings (a) provide evidence for two separable evaluation processes in primates, consistency and value assessment, (b) reveal a direct relationship between consistency assessment and emotional processes, and (c) show that our wariness with events that are much better than expected is shared with other social primates.
Knight, Emily J.; Klepac, Kristen M.; and Kralik, Jerald D., "Too Good to Be True: Rhesus Monkeys React Negatively to Better-than-Expected Offers" (2013). Open Dartmouth: Faculty Open Access Articles. 3507.