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Title: Under pressure: the interaction between high-stakes contexts and individual differences in decision-making in humans and non-human species

Observed behavior can be the result of complex cognitive processes that are influenced by environmental factors, physiological process, and situational features. Pressure, a feature of a situation in which an individual’s outcome is impacted by his or her own ability to perform, has been traditionally treated as a human-specific phenomenon and only recently have pressure-related deficits been considered in relation to other species. However, there are strong similarities in biological and cognitive systems among mammals (and beyond), and high-pressure situations are at least theoretically common in the wild. We hypothesize that other species are sensitive to pressure and that we can learn about the evolutionary trajectory of pressure responses by manipulating pressure experimentally in these other species. Recent literature indicates that, as in humans, pressure influences responses in non-human primates, with either deficits in ability to perform (“choking”) or an ability to thrive when the stakes are high. Here, we synthesize the work to date on performance under pressure in humans and how hormones might be related to individual differences in responses. Then, we discuss why we would expect to see similar effects of pressure in non-humans and highlight the existing evidence for how other species respond. We argue that evidence suggests that other species respond to high-pressure contexts in similar ways as humans, and that responses to pressure are a critical missing piece of our understanding of cognition in human and non-human animals. Understanding pressure’s effects could provide insight into individual variation in decision-making in comparative cognition and the evolution of human decision-making.

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Award ID(s):
1919305 2135621
Author(s) / Creator(s):
Publisher / Repository:
Springer Science + Business Media
Date Published:
Journal Name:
Animal Cognition
Page Range / eLocation ID:
p. 1103-1117
Medium: X
Sponsoring Org:
National Science Foundation
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