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Sep 09, 2015
Scientific Reports
Irrational decision making in humans and other species challenges the use of optimality in behavioural biology. Here we show that such observations are in fact powerful tools to understand the adaptive significance of behavioural mechanisms. We presented starlings choices between probabilistic alternatives, receiving or not information about forthcoming, delayed outcomes after their choices. Subjects could not use this information to alter the outcomes. Paradoxically, outcome information induced loss-causing preference for the lower probability option. The effect depended on time under uncertainty: information given just after each choice caused strong preference for lower probability, but information just before the outcome did not. A foraging analysis shows that these preferences would maximize gains if post-choice information were usable, as when predators abandon a chase when sure of the prey escaping. Our study illustrates how experimentally induced irrational behaviour supports rather than weakens the evolutionary optimality approach to animal behaviour.

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