Chimpanzee and human risk preferences show key similarities

Lou M. Haux, Jan M. Engelmann, Ruben C. Arslan, Ralph Hertwig, Esther Herrmann

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Risk preference impacts how people make key life decisions related to health, wealth, and well-being. Systematic variations in risk-taking behavior can be the result of differences in fitness expectations, as predicted by life-history theory. Yet the evolutionary roots of human risk-taking behavior remain poorly understood. Here, we studied risk preferences of chimpanzees (86 Pan troglodytes; 47 females; age = 2–40 years) using a multimethod approach that combined observer ratings with behavioral choice experiments. We found that chimpanzees’ willingness to take risks shared structural similarities with that of humans. First, chimpanzees’ risk preference manifested as a traitlike preference that was consistent across domains and measurements. Second, chimpanzees were ambiguity averse. Third, males were more risk prone than females. Fourth, the appetite for risk showed an inverted-U-shaped relation to age and peaked in young adulthood. Our findings suggest that key dimensions of risk preference appear to emerge independently of the influence of human cultural evolution.
Original languageEnglish
JournalPsychological Science
Early online date3 Jan 2023
Publication statusEarly online - 3 Jan 2023


  • decision making
  • chimpanzees
  • risk preference
  • risk taking
  • ambiguity aversion
  • life span
  • life-history theory

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