Less is more when choosing between groups of assorted items

October 3, 2012
A monkey chooses between groups of objects. Credit: PLoS ONE 7(10): e46240.doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0046240

When making decisions about the value of an assortment of different objects, people approximate an average overall value, which though frequently useful can lead to apparently irrational decision-making. A new study published Oct 3 in PLOS ONE by Jerald Kralik and colleagues at Dartmouth College shows for the first time that non-human primates also make similar 'irrational' choices based on approximation.

In the study, researchers found that preferred a highly-valued food item (a fruit) alone to the identical item paired with a food of positive but lower value (fruit and a vegetable).

The researchers suggest that this behavior is similar to what has been seen in previous studies with humans, where participants rated a 24-piece dinnerware set more highly than one with the same 24 pieces, plus 16 more pieces of which nine were broken.

According to the authors, decision-making processes in humans and other primates have evolved towards reducing the complexity in choices between large groups of assorted items, which may result in such irrational choices.

"People often judge a group—-of valuables, of foods, of other people—-by its average rather than by the sum of its parts. Our study shows that monkeys appear to do the same thing, which suggests that both monkeys and people inherited a particular way of simplifying the world around us, making choices easier, sometimes at the expense of ''" says Kralik.

Explore further: The symbolic monkey? Token-mediated economic choices in tufted capuchins

More information: Kralik JD, Xu ER, Knight EJ, Khan SA, Levine WJ (2012) When Less Is More: Evolutionary Origins of the Affect Heuristic. PLoS ONE 7(10): e46240.doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0046240

Related Stories

Monkeys choose variety for variety's sake

March 15, 2010

Given a choice between spending a token to get their absolute favorite food or spending it to have a choice from a buffet of options, capuchin monkeys will opt for variety.

Great apes make sophisticated decisions

December 29, 2011

Chimpanzees, orangutans, gorillas and bonobos make more sophisticated decisions than was previously thought. Great apes weigh their chances of success, based on what they know and the likelihood to succeed when guessing, ...

Recommended for you

Research advances on transplant ward pathogen

August 28, 2015

The fungus Cryptococcus causes meningitis, a brain disease that kills about 1 million people each year—mainly those with impaired immune systems due to AIDS, cancer treatment or an organ transplant. It's difficult to treat ...

Genomes uncover life's early history

August 24, 2015

A University of Manchester scientist is part of a team which has carried out one of the biggest ever analyses of genomes on life of all forms.

Rare nautilus sighted for the first time in three decades

August 25, 2015

In early August, biologist Peter Ward returned from the South Pacific with news that he encountered an old friend, one he hadn't seen in over three decades. The University of Washington professor had seen what he considers ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.