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.

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)…’

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Trackback this post  |  Subscribe to the comments via RSS Feed


Nicolai J. Foss | home | posts
Peter G. Klein | home | posts
Richard Langlois | home | posts
Lasse B. Lien | home | posts


Former Guests | posts


Recent Posts



Our Recent Books

Nicolai J. Foss and Peter G. Klein, Organizing Entrepreneurial Judgment: A New Approach to the Firm (Cambridge University Press, 2012).
Peter G. Klein and Micheal E. Sykuta, eds., The Elgar Companion to Transaction Cost Economics (Edward Elgar, 2010).
Peter G. Klein, The Capitalist and the Entrepreneur: Essays on Organizations and Markets (Mises Institute, 2010).
Richard N. Langlois, The Dynamics of Industrial Capitalism: Schumpeter, Chandler, and the New Economy (Routledge, 2007).
Nicolai J. Foss, Strategy, Economic Organization, and the Knowledge Economy: The Coordination of Firms and Resources (Oxford University Press, 2005).
Raghu Garud, Arun Kumaraswamy, and Richard N. Langlois, eds., Managing in the Modular Age: Architectures, Networks and Organizations (Blackwell, 2003).
Nicolai J. Foss and Peter G. Klein, eds., Entrepreneurship and the Firm: Austrian Perspectives on Economic Organization (Elgar, 2002).
Nicolai J. Foss and Volker Mahnke, eds., Competence, Governance, and Entrepreneurship: Advances in Economic Strategy Research (Oxford, 2000).
Nicolai J. Foss and Paul L. Robertson, eds., Resources, Technology, and Strategy: Explorations in the Resource-based Perspective (Routledge, 2000).

%d bloggers like this: