Vol 6, Issue 1, February 2019

Responses to Economic Games of Cooperation and Conflict in Squirrel Monkeys (Saimiri boliviensis)


Vale, G. L., Williams, L. E., Schapiro, S. J., Lambeth, S. P., & Brosnan, S. F. (2019). Responses to economic games of cooperation and conflict in squirrel monkeys (Saimiri boliviensis). Animal Behavior and Cognition, 6(1), 32-47. https://doi.org/10.26451/abc.


Games from experimental economics have provided insights into the evolutionary roots of social decision making in primates and other species. Multiple primate species’ abilities to cooperate, coordinate and anti-coordinate have been tested utilizing variants of these simple games. Past research, however, has focused on species known to cooperate and coordinate in the wild. To begin to address the degree to which cooperation and coordination may be a general ability that manifests in specific contexts, the present study assessed the decisions of squirrel monkeys (Saimiri boliviensis; N = 10), a species not known for their cooperative behavior in these games. Pairs of monkeys were presented with the Assurance Game (a coordination game), the Hawk-Dove Game (an anti-coordination game) and the Prisoner’s Dilemma (a cooperation game with a temptation to defect). We then compared squirrel monkeys’ performance to existing data on capuchin monkeys (Sapajus [Cebus] apella), a closely related species that routinely cooperates, to determine what, if any, differences in decision making emerged. Some pairs of both species found the payoff-dominant Nash Equilibrium (NE) in the coordination game, but failed to find the NE in subsequent games. Our results suggest that, like capuchins, squirrel monkeys coordinate their behavior with others, suggesting that such mutual outcomes occur in at least some contexts, even in species that do not routinely cooperate.


Assurance Game, Cooperation, Coordination, Hawk-Dove Game, Prisoner’s Dilemma