Are the roots of human economic systems shared with non-human primates?

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


We review and analyze evidence for an evolutionary rooting of human economic behaviors and organization in non-human primates. Rather than focusing on the direct application of economic models that a priori account for animal decision behavior, we adopt an inductive definition of economic behavior in terms of the contribution of individual cognitive capacities to the provision of resources within an exchange structure. We spell out to what extent non-human primates’ individual and strategic decision behaviors are shared with humans. We focus on the ability to trade, through barter or token-mediated exchanges, as a landmark of an economic system among members of the same species. It is an open question why only humans have reached a high level of economic sophistication. While primates have many of the necessary cognitive abilities (symbolic and computational) in isolation, one plausible issue we identify is the limits in exerting cognitive control to combine several sources of information. The difference between human and non-human primates’ economies might well then be in degree rather than kind.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-15
Number of pages15
JournalNeuroscience and Biobehavioral Reviews
StatePublished - Feb 2020
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2019 Elsevier Ltd


  • Barter
  • Behavioral economics
  • Delay of gratification
  • Economic behavior
  • Economic games
  • Non-human primate economics
  • Numerosity
  • Proto-monetary behavior
  • Risk proneness
  • Self-control
  • Token-mediated exchange
  • Value representation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuropsychology and Physiological Psychology
  • Cognitive Neuroscience
  • Behavioral Neuroscience


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