Abstract

A core assumption implicit in economic models of animal choice is that subjects assign absolute utilities to options that are independent of the type and number of alternatives available. Humans sometimes appear to violate this assumption and employ relative, as opposed to absolute, currencies when making choices. Recent evidence suggests that animals too might sometimes employ relative choice mechanisms. We tested this idea by measuring the foraging preferences of rufous hummingbirds (Selasphorus rufus) faced with choices analogous to those in which human use of relative currencies is evident. The birds experienced three treatments: a binary choice between two artificial flower types designated concentration (20 μl, 40% sucrose solution) and volume (40 μl, 20%), and two trinary treatments in which a third decoy option (either concentration decoy: 10 μl, 30% or volume decoy: 30 μl, 10%) was added to the set. The birds' preferences differed significantly across the three treatments. In the trinary treatments, the effect of the decoy options was to increase the preference for the option that dominated the decoy. These results are similar to those reported in the human choice literature, and are compatible with the hummingbirds using a relative evaluation mechanism in decision making.

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