Emergence of group rationality from irrational individuals
Evolutionary theory predicts that animal decision makers should be rational, meaning that they consistently choose fitness-maximizing options. Despite this, violations of rationality have been found repeatedly in humans and other animals. The significance of these violations remains controversial, but many explanations point to cognitive limitations that prevent animals from adequately processing the information needed for fully rational choice. Instead, they rely on heuristics that usually work well but yield systematic errors in specific contexts. Although past research on rationality has focused on individuals, many highly integrated groups, such as ant colonies, regularly make consensus choices among food sources, nest sites, or other options. These collective choices emerge from local interactions among many group members, none of whom take on the whole burden of decision making. We hypothesized that groups may evade the irrational consequences of individual limitations by distributing their decision making across many group members. We tested this in the well-studied case of collective nest-site selection by Temnothorax ants. We found that individual ants, but not colonies, strongly violated rationality when presented with a challenging nest-site choice. Specifically, isolated individuals irrationally switched their preference between 2 alternative nest sites based on their experience of an unattractive decoy. Given the same choice, intact colonies maintained consistent preferences regardless of the decoy's presence. Previous studies have stressed how distributed decision making can filter out random errors made by group members. Our results show that collectives can also suppress systematic errors that emerge from the decision heuristics of cognitively limited individuals. Copyright 2011, Oxford University Press.
If you experience problems downloading a file, check if you have the proper application to view it first. In case of further problems read the IDEAS help page. Note that these files are not on the IDEAS site. Please be patient as the files may be large.
As the access to this document is restricted, you may want to look for a different version under "Related research" (further below) or search for a different version of it.
Volume (Year): 22 (2011)
Issue (Month): 2 ()
|Contact details of provider:|| Postal: Oxford University Press, Great Clarendon Street, Oxford OX2 6DP, UK|
Fax: 01865 267 985
Web page: https://academic.oup.com/beheco
|Order Information:||Web: http://www.oup.co.uk/journals|
When requesting a correction, please mention this item's handle: RePEc:oup:beheco:v:22:y:2011:i:2:p:276-281. See general information about how to correct material in RePEc.
For technical questions regarding this item, or to correct its authors, title, abstract, bibliographic or download information, contact: (Oxford University Press)or (Christopher F. Baum)
If you have authored this item and are not yet registered with RePEc, we encourage you to do it here. This allows to link your profile to this item. It also allows you to accept potential citations to this item that we are uncertain about.
If references are entirely missing, you can add them using this form.
If the full references list an item that is present in RePEc, but the system did not link to it, you can help with this form.
If you know of missing items citing this one, you can help us creating those links by adding the relevant references in the same way as above, for each refering item. If you are a registered author of this item, you may also want to check the "citations" tab in your profile, as there may be some citations waiting for confirmation.
Please note that corrections may take a couple of weeks to filter through the various RePEc services.