Sunday, December 20, 2020

Monkeys, like humans, persist at tasks they've already invested in


News Release 18-Dec-2020
Georgia State University


If you've ever stayed in a relationship too long or stuck with a project that was going nowhere, you're not alone. Humans are generally reluctant to give up on something they've already committed time and effort to. It's called the "sunk costs" phenomenon, where the more resources we sink into an endeavor, the likelier we are to continue--even if we sense it's futile.

But why would we engage in such potentially self-defeating behavior?

Georgia State researchers think two factors may play a role. First, it may be a deep, evolutionarily ancient mechanism that helps us balance overall cost and benefit. Second, it may be influenced by uncertainty about the outcome (you never know, it might work out, so why not keep trying?)

Julia Watzek, a recent Georgia State University Ph.D. recipient, and her graduate advisor Professor Sarah F. Brosnan have shown that both capuchin monkeys and rhesus macaques are susceptible to the same behavior and that it occurs more often when the monkeys are uncertain about the outcome. Their new study, "Capuchin and rhesus monkeys show sunk cost effects in a psychomotor task," was published recently in Nature's Scientific Reports.


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