Quantity-quality trade-off in the acquisition of token preference by capuchin monkeys (Sapajus spp.)

E. Quintiero, S. Gastaldi, F. De Petrillo, E. Addessi, S. Bourgeois-Gironde

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Money represents a cornerstone of human modern economies and how money emerged as a medium of exchange is a crucial question for social sciences. Although non-human primates have not developed monetary systems, they can estimate, combine and exchange tokens. Here, we evaluated quantity-quality trade-offs in token choices in tufted capuchin monkeys as a first step in the investigation of the generalizability of tokens as reinforcers, which is a potentially relevant factor underlying the emergence of money in humans. We measured capuchins' exchange preferences when they were repeatedly provided with 10 units of three token types yielding food combinations varying in quantity and quality. Overall, capuchins maximized their quantitative payoff, preferring tokens associated with a higher food amount, rather than showing violations of rationality. However, some individuals did not maximize their qualitative payoff, possibly because of conditional valuation effects or owing to the choice overload phenomenon, according to which too many options reduce the accuracy of choice. Our study supports the importance of comparative research to finely analyse the multiple components shaping the economic behaviours of other species, possibly to achieve a more comprehensive, evolutionary- and ecologically based understanding of human economic behaviour. This article is part of the theme issue 'Existence and prevalence of economic behaviours among non-human primates'.

Original languageEnglish
Article number20190662
JournalPhilosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Issue number1819
StatePublished - 1 Mar 2021
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021 The Author(s).


  • exchange behaviour
  • less-is-more effect
  • money
  • non-human primates
  • selective-value effect
  • token

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology
  • General Agricultural and Biological Sciences


Dive into the research topics of 'Quantity-quality trade-off in the acquisition of token preference by capuchin monkeys (Sapajus spp.)'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this