Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Natural selection can favor 'irrational' behavior

Date:
January 14, 2014
Source:
University of Bristol
Summary:
It seems paradoxical that a preference for which of two houses to buy could depend on another, inferior, house -- but researchers at the have identified that seemingly irrelevant alternatives can, and should, influence choices. Even more remarkable is the finding that optimal choices can violate the principle of transitivity: it can be best to choose A from A or B, and choose B from B or C, but choose C from A or C.

It seems paradoxical that a preference for which of two houses to buy could depend on another, inferior, house -- but researchers at the University of Bristol have identified that seemingly irrelevant alternatives can, and should, influence choices. Even more remarkable is the finding that optimal choices can violate the principle of transitivity: it can be best to choose A from A or B, and choose B from B or C, but choose C from A or C.

The findings, published in Royal Society Journal Biology Letters, are based on two premises: that current options are indicative of the likely options in the near future, and that at least one of the options takes a different amount of time to handle.

The study's lead author, Professor John McNamara of Bristol's School of Mathematics said: "I foresaw that inferior options could affect choices, but the finding of intransitive choice is most exciting." Previous work on the topic has relied on the state of the individual changing whereas this result is more general.

The researchers are part of the Modelling Animal Decisions team at the University of Bristol, which aims to understand mental mechanisms from an evolutionary perspective. Consequently, the paper is pitched in terms of an individual choosing between prey options where each type of prey takes a different amount of time to handle. Assuming that the individual wants to maximise their long-term rate of energy gain, it is possible to calculate which option they should take, based on the currently available options and how likely each option is to appear or disappear over time.

The finding is important because it shows that two of the keystone principles of rationality, regularity and transitivity, cannot be applied easily. Knowing that an individual prefers an orange to a banana, and that they prefer a banana to an apple tells us nothing about which they 'should' prefer from an orange and an apple, because each fruit has a different handling time.

Similarly, a small property developer that buys, renovates and sells one house at a time cannot rule out house A just because it would be preferable to choose house B (if those were the only two options). Different houses take different amount of time to renovate so another option, C, might mean that overall, the best option is to buy house A.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by University of Bristol. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. John McNamara, Peter Trimmer and Alasdair Houston. Natural selection can favour 'irrational' behaviour. Biology Letters, January 2014

Cite This Page:

University of Bristol. "Natural selection can favor 'irrational' behavior." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 14 January 2014. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/01/140114202919.htm>.
University of Bristol. (2014, January 14). Natural selection can favor 'irrational' behavior. ScienceDaily. Retrieved August 21, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/01/140114202919.htm
University of Bristol. "Natural selection can favor 'irrational' behavior." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/01/140114202919.htm (accessed August 21, 2014).

Share This




More Mind & Brain News

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Do More Wedding Guests Make A Happier Marriage?

Do More Wedding Guests Make A Happier Marriage?

Newsy (Aug. 20, 2014) — A new study found couples who had at least 150 guests at their weddings were more likely to report being happy in their marriages. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Charter Schools Alter Post-Katrina Landscape

Charter Schools Alter Post-Katrina Landscape

AP (Aug. 20, 2014) — Nine years after Hurricane Katrina, charter schools are the new reality of public education in New Orleans. The state of Louisiana took over most of the city's public schools after the killer storm in 2005. (Aug. 20) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Researcher Testing on-Field Concussion Scanners

Researcher Testing on-Field Concussion Scanners

AP (Aug. 19, 2014) — Four Texas high school football programs are trying out an experimental system designed to diagnose concussions on the field. The technology is in response to growing concern over head trauma in America's most watched sport. (Aug. 19) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Kids' Drawings At Age 4 Linked To Intelligence At Age 14

Kids' Drawings At Age 4 Linked To Intelligence At Age 14

Newsy (Aug. 19, 2014) — A study by King's College London says there's a link between how well kids draw at age 4 and how intelligent they are later in life. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
 
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:  

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:  

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile iPhone Android Web
Follow Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins