Ants more rational than humans in taking decisions in groups

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Washington, Aug 1 (ANI): When it comes to decision-making in groups, ants turn out to be more rational than humans, according to a study conducted by researchers from Arizona State University and Princeton University.

However, the study"s architects-Stephen Pratt and Susan Edwards-say that the findings do not mean that humans are "stupider" than ants, but this only implies that humans and animals simply often make irrational choices when faced with very challenging 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," said Pratt.

The researchers closed in on to the findings after examining the process of nest selection in the ant, Temnothorax curvispinosus. These ant colonies live in small cavities, as small as an acorn, and are skillful in finding new places to roost.

The challenge before the colony was to "choose" a nest, when offered two options with very similar advantages.

The authors found that in collective decision-making in ants, the lack of individual options translated into more accurate outcomes by minimizing the chances for individuals to make mistakes.

Pratt said that this reflects a "wisdom of crowds" approach among the ants.

"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. 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," said Pratt.

"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."

Pratt said: "Typically we think having many individual options, strategies and approaches are beneficialbut irrational errors are more likely to arise when individuals make direct comparisons among options."

Studies of how or why irrationality arises can give insight into cognitive mechanisms and constraints, as well as how collective decision-making occurs.

The above insights could also translate into new approaches in the development of artificial intelligence.

The study has been published in the online edition of the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society: Biological Sciences. (ANI)

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