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Title: Experimental studies in simple choice behaviour
Author: Monteiro, Pedro Tiago dos Santos
ISNI:       0000 0004 2746 3216
Awarding Body: University of Oxford
Current Institution: University of Oxford
Date of Award: 2013
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This thesis addresses decision mechanisms in foraging situations, using laboratory experiments with European starlings (Sturnus vulgaris). Building on previous work from the Behavioural Ecology Research Group, I chose the Sequential Choice Model (SCM; reviewed in Kacelnik et al., 2011 − Appendix 1) as a starting point, and tested its premises and predictions generalising it to different experimental protocols. Classical decision models do not relate choice preferences to behaviour towards isolated options, and assume that choices involve time-consuming evaluations of all alternatives. However, previous work found that starlings’ responses to isolated options predict preference in choices, and that response times to single-option encounters are not reliably longer than response times in choices. Since, in the wild, options are normally encountered sequentially, dealing with isolated options can be considered of greater biological, and possibly psychological, significance than simultaneous decisions. Following this rationale, the SCM postulates that when multiple simultaneous stimuli are met they are processed in parallel, each competing against the memory of background opportunities, rather than comparing present options to each other. At the time of launching this research, these ideas had only been applied to protocols involving just two deterministic alternatives and offering no chance to explore the influence of learning history (i.e., how animals learn to choose; see Chapter 4). To increase their relevance and offer more rigorous tests, I generalised them to situations with multiple (see Chapters 2, 4 and 5), and in some cases probabilistic alternatives (see Chapter 3), controlling the learning regime. I combined these extensions with tests of economic rationality (see Chapter 6), a concept that is presently facing sustained debates. Integrating the result of all experimental chapters (see Chapter 7), my results support the notion that behaviour in single-option encounters is fundamental to understand choice behaviour. The important issue of whether choices involve a decision time cost or the opposite, a shortening of response times, remains unsolved, as neither could be evidenced reliably.
Supervisor: Kacelnik, Alex; Vasconcelos, Marco Sponsor: Portuguese Foundation for Science and Technology (FCT) ; BBSRC
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: Life Sciences ; Biology ; Zoological sciences ; Behaviour (zoology) ; Psychology ; Cognition ; Experimental psychology ; Learning ; Choice ; Decision making ; starlings ; Sequential Choice Model ; latencies ; foraging ; rationality