Psychology, Department of


Date of this Version



Published in Frontiers in Psychology April 2011 | Volume 2, Article 68, pp. 1-11; doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2011.00068 Copyright: © 2011 Mühlhoff, Stevens and Reader.


In temporal discounting, animals trade off the time to obtain a reward against the quality of a reward, choosing between a smaller reward available sooner versus a larger reward available later. Similar discounting can apply over space, when animals choose between smaller and closer versus larger and more distant rewards. Most studies of temporal and spatial discounting in non-human animals use food as the reward, and it is not established whether animals trade off other preferred stimuli in similar ways. Here, we offered female guppies (Poecilia reticulata) a spatial discounting task in which we measured preferences for a larger reward as the distance to it increased relative to a closer but smaller reward. We tested whether the fish discounted reward types differently by offering subjects either food items or same-sex conspecifics as rewards. Before beginning the discounting tasks, we conducted validation tests to ensure that subjects equally valued the food and social stimuli in the quantities provided. In the discounting task, subjects switched their preferences from the larger to the smaller reward as the distance to the larger reward increased (spatial discounting), but the pattern and magnitude of discounting did not differ across the two reward types. These findings indicate that guppies show similar patterns of discounting for food and social rewards in a spatial task. In an examination of travel times, however, the fish swam faster to food rewards than to shoaling partners. Analysis of travel times suggests that fish temporally discounted social rewards less steeply than food rewards. Thus, reward type influences temporal discounting, suggesting a dissociation between temporal and spatial discounting. Our results illustrate how animals adjust choices and travel times depending on both the type of cost (time, distance) and benefits (food, social partners).

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