Speaker: Dr. Tomer Czaczkes, University of Regensburg
Social insects, such as ants and honeybees, have access to a wide array of information sources.
These include private information (e.g. memories), and importantly, social information from nestmates (e.g. pheromone trails).
Oddly, social information is often ignored when private information is available. Taking inspiration from behavioural economics, we find that this is likely due to social information lacking certainty along critical information dimensions.
For example, pheromone trails are ambiguous about the quality of the food source they advertise.
Supplementing social information along the lacking informational dimension can cause animals to begin relying on this type of information again, potentially explaining the frequent contacts of ants on trails.
All this information integration is ultimately aimed at choosing the most valuable course of action. Animals are often considered economically rational, in that they assign fixed values to resources of fixed absolute qualities.
However, humans show relative value perception – i.e. the value assigned to a resource is affected by many things extrinsic to the resource itself.
Our research shows that ants also show relative value perception, judging the quality of a food source relative to their expectations.
We also found that value perception is affected by value-neutral changes in food quality: ants devalue food which is different, but not worse, than what they expect.
Most counterintuitively, we find that ants overvalue food which they had to work hard for.
The many parallels between humans, non-human vertebrates, and insects, suggest that relative value perception is a strongly adaptive behaviour, and that social insects can be valuable models of behavioural economic behaviour.
Only by understanding how animals perceive value can we fully understand the decisions they make.