Published on Sun May 16 2021

Delay of gratification in non-human animals: A review of inter-specific variation in performance

Susini, I., Safryghin, A., Hillemann, F., Wascher, C. A. F.

Delay of gratification is regarded as an important cognitive ability enabling adaptive decision-making in both social and asocial contexts. We present data from 21 species, spanning across eight taxonomic order, with 1-9 species tested per taxonomic group. We highlight variation in experimental paradigms used to

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Abstract

The ability to regulate and withhold an immediate behaviour in pursuit of a more preferred or valuable, albeit delayed, outcome is regarded as an important cognitive ability enabling adaptive decision-making in both social and asocial contexts. Abilities to cope with a delay in gratification have been investigated in a range of species using a variety of experimental paradigms. The present study attempts a first systematic evaluation of available experimental data from non-human animals, which is an essential basis for quantifying biological and non-biological factors (e.g. socio-ecology versus experimental design) affecting performance in delay of gratification tasks. Data were sourced from 52 separate studies, and a comprehensive overview of the available literature on delay of gratification in non-human animals is presented. We present data from 21 species, spanning across eight taxonomic order, with 1-9 species tested per taxonomic group. We highlight variation in experimental paradigms used to study delay of gratification abilities in non-human animals, both with regard to reward type or experimental setup, and discuss the implications for comparative analyses. We conclude that, at present, cross-species comparisons of delay of gratification abilities are hindered by a lack of consistency in experimental designs and low number of species tested across taxonomic orders. We hope to stimulate research on a more diverse set of species, and that future studies consider potential social and ecological factors that cause intra-specific variation in test performances, that is repeatedly seen across species.