Rational time investment during collective decision making in Temnothorax ants

Takao Sasaki, Benjamin Stott, Stephen C. Pratt

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

11 Scopus citations


The study of rational choice in humans and other animals typically focuses on decision outcomes, but rationality also applies to decision latencies, especially when time is scarce and valuable. For example, the smaller the difference in quality between two options, the faster a rational actor should decide between them. This is because the consequences of choosing the inferior option are less severe if the options are similar. Experiments have shown, however, that humans irrationally spend more time choosing between similar options. In this study, we assessed the rationality of time investment during nest-site choice by the rock ant, Temnothorax albipennis. Previous studies have shown that collective decision-making allows ant colonies to avoid certain irrational errors. Here we show that the same is true for time investment. Individual ants, like humans, irrationally took more time to complete an emigration when choosing between two similar nests than when choosing between two less similar nests. Whole colonies, by contrast, rationally made faster decisions when the options were more similar. We discuss the underlying mechanisms of decision-making in individuals and colonies and how they lead to irrational and rational time investment, respectively.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number20190542
JournalBiology letters
Issue number10
StatePublished - Oct 1 2019


  • Collective decision-making
  • Rational decision-making
  • Temnothorax

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences (miscellaneous)
  • General Agricultural and Biological Sciences


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