Researchers from Arizona State University and Princeton University conducted a study that goes to show that our ‘multimodal, egg-headed, tool-using, bipedal, opposing-thumbed‘ selves come way behind ants when it comes to ration. That doesn’t actually mean that we are dumber than ants, but rather that we sometimes make irrational decisions, especially when faced with very difficult and important decisions.
“This paradoxical outcome is based on apparent constraint: most individual ants know of only a single option, and the colony’s collective choice self-organizes from interactions among many poorly-informed ants,” says Pratt, an assistant professor in the School of Life Sciences in ASU’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.
The insight came frin examining the process of choosing a new home. The major hints come when the ants are faced with making a decision between two possibilities with very similar advantages.
“Rationality in this case should be thought of as meaning that a decision-maker, who is trying to maximize something, should simply be consistent in its preferences.” Pratt says. “For animals trying to maximize their fitness, for example, they should always rank options, whether these are food sources, mates, or nest sites, according to their fitness contribution. Which means that it would be irrational to prefer choice ‘A’ to ‘B’ on Tuesday and then to prefer ‘B’ to ‘A’ on Wednesday, if the fitness returns of the two options have not changed.”
“Typically we think having many individual options, strategies and approaches are beneficial,” Pratt adds, “but irrational errors are more likely to arise when individuals make direct comparisons among options.”