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Anim Cogn. 2010 Mar;13(2):263-71. doi: 10.1007/s10071-009-0264-6. Epub 2009 Jul 14.

Long-tailed macaques display unexpected waiting abilities in exchange tasks.

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Département Ecologie, Physiologie et Ethologie, IPHC, Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique, Université de Strasbourg, 23 rue Becquerel, Strasbourg, France.


The ability of animals to delay gratification is crucial for complex goal-directed action. It may help them in making effective decisions when facing a choice. We tested the ability of nine long-tailed macaques (Macaca fascicularis) to delay gratification in several experiments. In exchange tasks, subjects had to keep a small piece of cookie before returning it to an experimenter in order to get a larger food amount. Results showed that animals could wait between 10 s and 10 min depending on individual and sizes of reward. In another experiment, subjects could immediately give back the initial piece of cookie then wait for the return. Their performances more than doubled, demonstrating the role of consumption inhibition in postponing gratification. Such achievements underscore delays of gratification which until now were not thought possible in monkeys. Finally, subjects were presented with an accumulation of food pieces added at short intervals until they seized them. They mostly waited between 30 s and 1 min, which points at the consistency of our data, compared to those of other studies. Our results indicate that long-tailed macaques anticipated the duration of delays. We may account for their remarkable performances by their achievements in the social context.

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