Comparing utility functions between risky and riskless choice in rhesus monkeys

Abstract

Decisions can be risky or riskless, depending on the outcomes of the choice. Expected utility theory describes risky choices as a utility maximization process: we choose the option with the highest subjective value (utility), which we compute considering both the option’s value and its associated risk. According to the random utility maximization framework, riskless choices could also be based on a utility measure. Neuronal mechanisms of utility-based choice may thus be common to both risky and riskless choices. This assumption would require the existence of a utility function that accounts for both risky and riskless decisions. Here, we investigated whether the choice behavior of two macaque monkeys in risky and riskless decisions could be described by a common underlying utility function. We found that the utility functions elicited in the two choice scenarios were different from each other, even after taking into account the contribution of subjective probability weighting. Our results suggest that distinct utility representations exist for risky and riskless choices, which could reflect distinct neuronal representations of the utility quantities, or distinct brain mechanisms for risky and riskless choices. The different utility functions should be taken into account in neuronal investigations of utility-based choice.