About me

   Francesca De Petrillo
   Research Fellow

  Institute for Advanced Study of Toulouse
Manufacture des Tabacs
21, Allée de Brienne
31015 Toulouse Cedex 6

My research focuses on the evolutionary roots of human judgment and decision-making, by comparing how humans and other primates acquire and process information, and, ultimately, make decisions. In doing so, I aim to elucidate which aspects of decision-making are unique to humans, as well as how species’ differences in life history, ecology, and social structure account for differences in their decision strategies. I address these questions via two different avenues, integrating both comparative and developmental research.

Download my CV

The evolution of decision-making strategies

Why have humans evolved irrational decision-making biases, even when they are skilled at weighing costs and benefits accurately in a variety of other contexts? For example, people devalue options as they are pushed into the future, and generally avoid risk. Although many components of human economic behavior are typical of our species (i.e., only humans use money as a medium of exchange), other primates face similar choices in their natural habitats, making tradeoffs between the energetic or temporal costs and the possible benefits. I compare human and non-human primates’ decision-making strategies in similar contexts to shed light upon which aspects of economic decision-making are unique to humans, versus more widely shared. This research is done in collaboration with the Unit of Cognitive Primatology in Rome and the Department of Psychology of the Sapienza University of Rome.

Evolutionary variation in cognitive abilities and decision-making

Which factors are responsible for interspecific differences in cognitive skills? My research seeks to elucidate how different species acquire and process information from the physical and the social world and whether variation in cognitive abilities, including decision strategies, relates to differences in life history, ecology, and social structure. I address these questions by studying the psychology of different primate populations, including captive brown capuchin monkeys at the Unit of Cognitive Primatology in Rome, two free-ranging population of macaques, rhesus and Barbary macaques, living respectively at Cayo Santiago Field Station, Puerto Rico and at Trentham Monkey Forest, and different species of lemurs – Coquerel’s sifaka (Propithecus coquereli), ruffed lemurs (Varecia sp.), ring-tailed lemurs (Lemur catta), and aye-aye (Daubentonia madascarensis) at the Duke Lemur Center. This line of research is conducted in collaboration with the Cognitive Evolution Group at the Department of Psychology, University of Michigan.

The development of decision strategies during the lifespan

How do decision strategies change over human development? This research line seeks to address the origins and development of inter-individual variability in decision-making, such as differences between genders and across ages, by understanding which cognitive abilities and emotional correlates underpin an individual’s decision strategies at different stages of their lives. In collaboration with the Department of Psychology at the Sapienza University of Rome, I study decision strategies, including intertemporal choice and risk decisions, in preschool children of 3-6 years old.

The evolution of money

The use of money is evolutionarily unique to humans, so why is our species so motivated to obtain money? My research investigates whether the ability to categorize money can be traced back to non-human primates, by analyzing the exchange behavior of brown-tufted capuchin monkeys. This research is done in collaboration with the Unit of Cognitive Primatology of Rome and the Institut Jean Nicod in Paris.


I am deeply committed to education and science communication. Over the last six years, I have coordinated science outreach projects in Italy for elementary schools and the general public. In March 2013 I won a regional selection of Famelab-Italy, an international competition for young scientists interested in science communication, promoted worldwide by the British Council. See the video here. In 2014, I edited the scientific TV program “Nautilus Scienza” for the channel “Rai Scuola” of the Italian public television “RAI”. At the University of Michigan, I was a science communication fellow at the Museum of Natural History in 2017-2018.


All papers are available for personal or academic use upon request

Papers in peer-reviewed international journals

De Petrillo F. & Rosati A.G. (in press). Rhesus macaques use probabilities to predict future events. Evolution and Human Behaviour

De Petrillo F. & Rosati A.G. (2019). Ecological rationality: convergent decision-making in apes and capuchins. Behavioural Processes, 164: 201-213

De Petrillo F., Gori E., Micucci A., Bourgeois-Gironde S., Addessi E. (2019). Evolutionary origins of money categorization: An experimental investigation in tufted capuchin monkeys (Sapajus spp.). Animal cognition, 1-18.

Zoratto, F., Oddi, G., Gori, E., Micucci, A., De Petrillo, F., Paglieri, F., … & Addessi, E. (2018). Social modulation of risky decision-making in rats (Rattus norvegicus) and tufted capuchin monkeys (Sapajus spp.). Behavioural Brain Research, 347, 37-48.

De Petrillo F., Tonachella G., Addessi E. (2017). Emotional correlates of probabilistic decision making in tufted capuchin monkeys (Sapajus spp.). Animal Behaviour, 129, 249-256.

De Petrillo F., Micucci A., Gori E., Truppa V.,Ariely D., Addessi E. (2015) Self-control depletion in tufted capuchin monkeys (Sapajus spp.): does delay of gratification rely on a limited resource? Frontiers in Psychology, section comparative psychology, 6, 1-12

De Petrillo F., Gori E, Micucci A, Ponsi G, Paglieri F, Addessi E (2015). When is it worth waiting for? Food quantity, but not food quality, affects delay tolerance in tufted capuchin monkeys. Animal Cognition, 18(5), 1019-1029.

De Petrillo F., M. Ventricelli, G. Ponsi, E. Addessi (2015). Do tufted capuchin monkeys play the odds? Flexible risk preferences in Sapajus spp. Animal Cognition, 18, 119-130.

Paglieri F, Addessi E, De Petrillo F., Laviola G, Mirolli M, Parisi D, Petrosino G, Ventricelli M, Zoratto F, Adriani W. (2014). Nonhuman gamblers: Lessons from rodents, primates, and robots. Frontiers in Behavioral Neuroscience, 8, 1-17.

Addessi E, Bellagamba F, Delfino A, De Petrillo F., Focaroli V, Macchitella L, Maggiorelli V, Pace B, Pecora G, Rossi S, Sbaffi A, Tasselli MI, Paglieri F. (2014). Waiting by mistake: Symbolic representation of rewards modulate intertemporal choice in capuchin monkeys (Cebus apella), preschool children and adult humans. Cognition, 130, 428-441.

Addessi, E., Paglieri, F., Beran, M.J., Evans, T.A., Macchitella, L., De Petrillo F., Focaroli, V. (2013). Delay Choice Versus Delay Maintenance: Different Measures of Delayed Gratification in Capuchin Monkeys (Cebus apella). Journal of Comparative Psychology, 127(4), 2-8 Featured in APA’sParticularly Exciting Experiments In Psychology

Ventricelli M., Focaroli V., De Petrillo F., L. Macchitella, F. Paglieri, A. Addessi (2013). How capuchin monkeys (Cebus apella) behaviorally cope with increasing delay in a self-control task. Behavioural Processes, 100, 146-152

Chapters in Edited Volumes

De Petrillo, F., &Di Vincenzo F. (2018).An evolutionary perspective on primate social cognition. In: Evolution of Primate Social Cognition (Di Paolo, L.D; Di Vincenzo, F & De Petrillo, F. eds). Springer, Interdisciplinary Evolutionary Research, Number 4


Di Paolo L., Di Vincenzo F., De Petrillo F. (Eds.)2018. Evolution of Primate Social Cognition. Springer, Interdisciplinary Evolutionary Research, Number 4

Working papers

Paoletti, M., Bellagamba, F., Gagliardi, R…, De Petrillo F., Addessi E. (under review). Decision-making under risk and experienced regret in preschoolers and school-aged children.

De Petrillo, F. & Rosati A. (under review). Rational decision-making in animals. Cambridge Handbook of Animal Cognition.

De Petrillo F., Paoletti M., Bellagamba F., Manzi G., Paglieri F., Addessi E. (in prep). Is Homo sapiens always risk averse? Contextual factors modulate risk preferences in adult humans.


Institute for Advanced Study in Toulouse
Manufacture des Tabacs
21 Allée de Brienne
31015 Toulouse Cedex 6

Office : ME 506.4
Tel : + (33) 5 67 73 29 68