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Publication - Dr Andrew Higginson

    Trust your gut

    using physiological states as a source of information is almost as effective as optimal Bayesian learning

    Citation

    Higginson, AD, Fawcett, TW, Houston, AI & McNamara, JM, 2018, ‘Trust your gut: using physiological states as a source of information is almost as effective as optimal Bayesian learning’. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, vol 285.

    Abstract

    Approaches to understanding adaptive behaviour often assume that animals have perfect information about environmental conditions or are capable of sophisticated learning. If such learning abilities are costly, however, natural selection will favour simpler mechanisms for controlling behaviour when faced with uncertain conditions. Here, we show that, in a foraging context, a strategy based only on current energy reserves often performs almost as well as a Bayesian learning strategy that integrates all previous experiences to form an optimal estimate of environmental conditions. We find that Bayesian learning gives a strong advantage only if fluctuations in the food supply are very strong and reasonably frequent. The performance of both the Bayesian and the reserve-based strategy are more robust to inaccurate knowledge of the temporal pattern of environmental conditions than a strategy that has perfect knowledge about current conditions. Studies assuming Bayesian learning are often accused of being unrealistic; our results suggest that animals can achieve a similar level of performance to Bayesians using much simpler mechanisms based on their physiological state. More broadly, our work suggests that the ability to use internal states as a source of information about recent environmental conditions will have weakened selection for sophisticated learning and decision-making systems.

    Full details in the University publications repository