Hot-Hand Bias in Rhesus Monkeys

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Human decision-makers often exhibit the hot-hand phenomenon, a tendency to perceive positive serial autocorrelations in independent sequential events. The term is named after the observation that basketball fans and players tend to perceive streaks of high accuracy shooting when they are demonstrably absent. That is, both observing fans and participating players tend to hold the belief that a player’s chance of hitting a shot are greater following a hit than following a miss. We hypothesize that this bias reflects a strong and stable tendency among primates (including humans) to perceive positive autocorrelations in temporal sequences, that this bias is an adaptation to clumpy foraging environments, and that it may even be ecologically rational. Several studies support this idea in humans, but a stronger test would be to determine whether nonhuman primates also exhibit a hot-hand bias. Here we report behavior of 3 monkeys performing a novel gambling task in which correlation between sequential gambles (i.e., temporal clumpiness) is systematically manipulated. We find that monkeys have better performance (meaning, more optimal behavior) for clumped (positively correlated) than for dispersed (negatively correlated) distributions. These results identify and quantify a new bias in monkeys’ risky decisions, support accounts that specifically incorporate cognitive biases into risky choice, and support the suggestion that the hot-hand phenomenon is an evolutionary ancient bias.

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