Delayed gratification in New Caledonian crows and young children: influence of reward type and visibility
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Self-control underlies cognitive abilities such as decision making and future planning. Delay of gratification is a measure of self-control and involves obtaining a more valuable outcome in the future by tolerating a delay or investing a greater effort in the present. Contextual issues, such as reward visibility and type, may influence delayed gratification performance, although there has been limited comparative investigation between humans and other animals, particularly non-primate species. Here, we adapted an automated ‘rotating tray’ paradigm used previously with capuchin monkeys to test for delay of gratification ability that requires little pre-test training, where the subject must forgo an immediate, less preferred reward for a delayed, more preferred one. We tested New Caledonian crows and 3–5-year-old human children. We manipulated reward types to differ in quality or quantity (Experiments 1 and 2) as well as visibility (Experiment 2). In Experiments 1 and 2, both species performed better when the rewards varied in quality as opposed to quantity, though performed above chance in both conditions. In Experiment 1, both crows and children were able to delay gratification when both rewards were visible. In Experiment 2, 5-year-old children outperformed 3- and 4-year olds, though overall children still performed well, while the crows struggled when reward visibility was manipulated, a result which may relate to difficulties in tracking the experimenters’ hands during baiting. We discuss these findings in relation to the role of contextual issues on self-control when making species comparisons and investigating the mechanisms of self-control.

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