A new study from LUCS shows that humans might not be the only one endowed with affective forecasting
– the ability of predicting how never-before-experienced situations might turn out by recombining relevant memories from past – and disparate – experiences. This ability is thought to have evolved in the hominin lineage and, thus, to be absent in other species. Indeed, in the absence of social learning, all other animals are expected to respond by trial-and-error when confronted with novel situations.

To test affective forecasting in a nonhuman species, the team devised a non-verbal task in which taste stimuli were employed. The task was administered to a Sumatran orangutan and ten human participants, who served as a control group. After learning the taste of four ‘ingredient’ liquids – cherry, rhubarb, lemon and apple cider vinegar – the participants were presented with a battery of choices between a familiar ingredient and a never-before-experienced juice mix. The mixes were produced in front of the participants, by combining two familiar ingredients.

The results showed that, in the first encounter with the novel choice situations, both the orangutan and the human participants responded in a principled manner (and not by trial-and-error). They made choices that were consistent with the second (and indeed third, and fourth) time they encountered the same choice situations again. (These consistent choices were compared to independent taste preferences, which were collected at the end of the study.)

This indicates that the choices of both orangutan and human participants in the first encounter with the new choice situations were guided by predictions concerning the taste of the novel mixes. In turn, this suggest that human affective forecasting might have evolved in the deep shared ancestry of humans and orangutans.

Reference (Open access):
Sauciuc G-A, Persson T, Bååth R, Boborwicz K, Osvath M (2016) Affective forecasting in an orangutan – predicting the hedonic outcome of novel juice mixes. Animal Cognition. First online: 11 August 2016. DOI: 10.1007/s10071-016-1015-0

Link to press release by Springer