Modelling Animal Decisions

Welcome to the MAD group page.

We are interested in the adaptive function of behaviour and, more specifically, the evolution of such behaviour.  By exposing the logic of animal decisions, we are able to help explain why in some situations, animals consistently make (seemingly) irrational decisions.

Current research directions

  • Building models which integrate function and mechanism to study the evolution of mental mechanisms ("evo-mecho").
  • Identifying when state- or context-dependent choices should occur and how violations of transitivity can come about.
  • Identifying why Prospect Theory is able to account for numerous behaviours.
  • Understanding evolutionary aspects of self-control: feeding ecology, discounting and human obesity.

Recent publications (full list here)

  • Houston et al. (in press). Clarifying the relationship between prospect theory and risk-sensitive foraging theory. Evol. Hum. Behav.
  • Higginson et al. (in press). The starvation–predation trade-off shapes the strategic use of protein for energy during fasting. J. Theor. Biol.
  • Fawcett et al. (2014). The evolution of decision rules in complex environments. Trends Cogn. Sci. 18, 153–161.
  • McNamara et al. (2014). Natural selection can favour 'irrational' behaviour. Biol. Lett. 10, 20130935.
  • Trimmer et al. (2013). On the evolution and optimality of mood states. Behav. Sci. 3, 501–521.


Bristol Decision-making Group, Nina Balthasar, Zoltan Barta, Rafal Bogacz, Ian Boyd, Sean Collins, Sinead English, Angélique Favreau, Lutz Fromhage, Jonathan Grose, Alex Kacelnik, Kim Kaivanto, David Leslie, James Marshall, Jane Memmott, Mike Mendl, Samir Okasha, Liz Paul, Andy Radford, Sean Rands, Phil Stephens, Jonathan Wells, Karoline Wiesner.