Hayekian Ants

5 April 2010 at 1:07 pm 5 comments

| Dick Langlois |

A former student of mine (thanks, Don) sent me a link to a fascinating piece in the Proceedings of the Royal Society called “Rationality in Collective Decision-making by Ant Colonies.” Here’s the abstract.

Economic models of animal behaviour assume that decision-makers are rational, meaning that they assess options according to intrinsic fitness value and not by comparison with available alternatives. This expectation is frequently violated, but the significance of irrational behaviour remains controversial. One possibility is that irrationality arises from cognitive constraints that necessitate short cuts like comparative evaluation. If so, the study of whether and when irrationality occurs can illuminate cognitive mechanisms. We applied this logic in a novel setting: the collective decisions of insect societies. We tested for irrationality in colonies of Temnothorax ants choosing between two nest sites that varied in multiple attributes, such that neither site was clearly superior. In similar situations, individual animals show irrational changes in preference when a third relatively unattractive option is introduced. In contrast, we found no such effect in colonies. We suggest that immunity to irrationality in this case may result from the ants’ decentralized decision mechanism. A colony’s choice does not depend on site comparison by individuals, but instead self-organizes from the interactions of multiple ants, most of which are aware of only a single site. This strategy may filter out comparative effects, preventing systematic errors that would otherwise arise from the cognitive limitations of individuals.

Entry filed under: - Langlois -, Evolutionary Economics, Methods/Methodology/Theory of Science. Tags: .

Where to Submit? Why Are the Dutch So Clean?

5 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Peter Klein  |  5 April 2010 at 2:01 pm

    I wonder how the researchers satisfied the university’s informed-consent requirements?

  • 2. Randy  |  5 April 2010 at 6:05 pm

    Aren’t invertebrates normally excluded from IRB oversight? (Insert spineless administrator jokes here…)

  • 3. Hayekian Ants « Daniel Joseph Smith  |  6 April 2010 at 7:35 am

    [...] Hayekian Ants [...]

  • 4. Recomendaciones « intelib  |  6 April 2010 at 4:41 pm

    [...] Hayekian Ants, by Dick Langlois [...]

  • 5. Aidan Walsh  |  12 April 2010 at 1:42 am

    How about these Anti-Williamson Pigeons: M Nagy; Z Akos; D Biro and T Vicsek. Hierarchical Group Dynamics in Pigeon Flocks. Nature. Vol
    464, 8 April 2010, page 890.

    Lightweight gps devices were attached to a small flock of homing pigeons. The birds were observed in spontaneous flights and in homing flights.

    According to the authors: ‘That is, birds tended to copy consistently the directional behaviour of particular individuals, while being copied in their orientational choice by others.’ At least one factor in being a leader seemed to be superior navigation skills, based on one homing test where the birds were released individually.

    The authors concluded: ‘Hierarchical organized group movement thus appears to be a reliable observable, robust phenomenon in pigeon flocks of the sizes we tested (up to 10 individuals)…’

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