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Title: Decisions under uncertainty : common processes in birds, fish and humans
Author: Aw, Justine M.
ISNI:       0000 0004 0123 3703
Awarding Body: University of Oxford
Current Institution: University of Oxford
Date of Award: 2008
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Decision making is a framework we impose on a vast universe of possible behaviors to better understand the advantages and disadvantages of acting in different ways. Decisions under uncertainty are of particular interest because stochasticity is a feature of environments both today and throughout evolutionary history. As a result, we might expect decision makers (DMs) to have evolved mechanisms to handle variability. In this dissertation, I examine common decision processes in several model species: European starlings (Sturnus vulgaris), Banded tetras (Astyanax fasciatus) and humans (Homo sapiens). The broad range of approaches discussed include currencies DMs are expected to maximize (Risk Sensitivity Theory, Expected Utility), the currencies DMs do maximize (e.g. long versus short term rate maximizing models), the representation of outcomes in memory (Scalar Expectancy Theory) as well as explicit choice mechanisms (Sequential Choice Model). The first section of this thesis discusses responses to risk, offering humans and starlings choices between options which deliver certain or variable outcomes. Starlings demonstrate sensitivity to changes in the probability of variable outcomes and strong support for local rate maximization. Humans appear similarly sensitive to their own accuracy when task difficulty is varied. When the DM’s affective state was manipulated, neither humans nor starlings exhibit changes in risk preferences, but the effectiveness of these manipulations used could not be confirmed. Another topic of inquiry is the effect of the DM’s state at the time of valuation learning. State dependent valuation learning is demonstrated for the first time in a fish species, but Within Trial Contrast is not observed in starlings. Lastly, two experiments find strong support for the Sequential Choice Model, a promising new model of the mechanism of choice. Taken together, these experiments offer a glimpse into shared decision processes, but leave open questions about the mechanisms through which value is acquired.
Supervisor: Kacelnik, Alex Sponsor: National Science Foundation
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: Behaviour (zoology) ; Cognition ; Experimental psychology ; Zoological sciences ; Animal Behaviour ; Decision Making ; Sturnus vulgaris ; Starlings ; Decision Making in Animals ; Comparative Cognition