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  1. Abstract

    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 arguemore »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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  2. The origins of evolutionary games are rooted in both economics and animal behaviour, but economics has, until recently, focused primarily on humans. Although historically, specific games were used in targeted circumstances with non-human species (i.e. the Prisoner's Dilemma), experimental economics has been increasingly recognized as a valuable method for directly comparing both the outcomes of economic decisions and their underlying mechanisms across species, particularly in comparison with humans, thanks to the structured procedures that allow for them to be instantiated across a variety of animals. So far, results in non-human primates suggest that even when outcomes are shared, underlying proximate mechanisms can vary substantially. Intriguingly, in some contexts non-human primates more easily find a Nash equilibrium than do humans, possibly owing to their greater willingness to explore the parameter space, but humans excel at more complex outcomes, such as alternating between two Nash equilibria, even when deprived of language or instruction, suggesting potential mechanisms that humans have evolved to allow us to solve complex social problems. We consider what these results suggest about the evolution of economic decision-making and suggest future directions, in particular the need to expand taxonomic diversity, to expand this promising approach. This article is part ofmore »the theme issue ‘Half a century of evolutionary games: a synthesis of theory, application and future directions'.« less
    Free, publicly-accessible full text available May 8, 2024
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  6. Thinking about possibilities plays a critical role in the choices humans make throughout their lives. Despite this, the influence of individuals' ability to consider what is possible on culture has been largely overlooked. We propose that the ability to reason about future possibilities or prospective cognition, has consequences for cultural change, possibly facilitating the process of cumulative cultural evolution. In particular, by considering potential future costs and benefits of specific behaviours, prospective cognition may lead to a more flexible use of cultural behaviours. In species with limited planning abilities, this may lead to the development of cultures that promote behaviours with future benefits, circumventing this limitation. Here, we examine these ideas from a comparative perspective, considering the relationship between human and nonhuman assessments of future possibilities and their cultural capacity to invent new solutions and improve them over time. Given the methodological difficulties of assessing prospective cognition across species, we focus on planning, for which we have the most data in other species. Elucidating the role of prospective cognition in culture will help us understand the variability in when and how we see culture expressed, informing ongoing debates, such as that surrounding which social learning mechanisms underlie culture. This articlemore »is part of the theme issue ‘Thinking about possibilities: mechanisms, ontogeny, functions and phylogeny’.« less
    Free, publicly-accessible full text available December 19, 2023
  7. Abstract Humans often experience striking performance deficits when their outcomes are determined by their own performance, colloquially referred to as “choking under pressure.” Physiological stress responses that have been linked to both choking and thriving are well-conserved in primates, but it is unknown whether other primates experience similar effects of pressure. Understanding whether this occurs and, if so, its physiological correlates, will help clarify the evolution and proximate causes of choking in humans. To address this, we trained capuchin monkeys on a computer game that had clearly denoted high- and low-pressure trials, then tested them on trials with the same signals of high pressure, but no difference in task difficulty. Monkeys significantly varied in whether they performed worse or better on high-pressure testing trials and performance improved as monkeys gained experience with performing under pressure. Baseline levels of cortisol were significantly negatively related to performance on high-pressure trials as compared to low-pressure trials. Taken together, this indicates that less experience with pressure may interact with long-term stress to produce choking behavior in early sessions of a task. Our results suggest that performance deficits (or improvements) under pressure are not solely due to human specific factors but are rooted in evolutionarilymore »conserved biological factors.« less
    Free, publicly-accessible full text available December 1, 2023
  8. Free, publicly-accessible full text available November 1, 2023