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PLoS One. 2012;7(11):e48434. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0048434. Epub 2012 Nov 7.

Is working more costly than waiting in monkeys?

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Department of Molecular Neuroimaging, Molecular Imaging Center, National Institute of Radiological Sciences, Chiba, Japan.


We studied how value for instrumental action is discounted by predicted effort and delay. The monkeys were trained to perform instrumental trials that required a bar release when a visual target changed from red-to-green. There were two trial conditions. In delay trials, after the monkeys performed one instrumental trial correctly a reward was delivered 0-7 seconds later. In work trials, the monkeys had to perform 0, 1, or 2 additional instrumental trials to obtain a reward. The lengths of trials in delay matched the time it took to complete work trials. The length of delay or number of trials was indicated by a visual cue presented throughout the trial. Our hypothesis was that the monkeys would all show temporal discounting of reward in the delay trials, and that in the work trials the monkeys' performance might reflect an additional cost due to working. The error rate increased linearly as remaining cost increased for all 8 monkeys. For 4 monkeys the error rate was significantly larger in work trials than in delay trials (effort sensitive monkeys). For the other 4 monkeys there was no significant difference in error rate (effort insensitive monkeys). Since the error rate has an inverse relation with value for action, these results suggest that value is discounted hyperbolically by effort as well as by delay. Error rates generally increased as the testing sessions progressed and the total reward accumulated (i.e., effect of reward devaluation). The relative impact of delay and effort on error rates was reasonably stable within subjects. Thus, within the monkey population there seems to be a significant dichotomy in the sensitivity governing whether working is more costly than waiting, possibly arising from a constitutional or genetic trait.

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