When rate maximization is impulsive

Theodore P. Pavlic, Kevin M. Passino

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

10 Scopus citations


Although optimal foraging theory predicts that natural selection should favor animal behaviors that maximize long-term rate of gain, behaviors observed in the laboratory tend to be impulsive. In binary-choice experiments, despite the long-term gain of each alternative, animals favor short handling times. Most explanations of this behavior suggest that there is hidden rationality in impulsiveness. Instead, we suggest that simultaneous and mutually exclusive binary-choice encounters are often unnatural and thus immune to the effects of natural selection. Using a simulation of an imperfect forager, we show how a simple strategy (i.e., an intuitive model of animal behavior) that maximizes long-term rate of gain under natural conditions appears to be impulsive under operant laboratory conditions. We then show how the accuracy of this model can be verified in the laboratory by biasing subjects with a short pre-experiment ad libitum high-quality feeding period. We also show a similar behavioral mechanism results in diet preferences that are qualitatively consistent with the digestive rate model of foraging (i.e., foraging under digestive rate constraints).

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1255-1265
Number of pages11
JournalBehavioral Ecology and Sociobiology
Issue number8
StatePublished - 2010
Externally publishedYes


  • Impulsiveness
  • Impulsivity
  • Optimal foraging
  • Rationality
  • Self-control
  • Simultaneous encounters

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Animal Science and Zoology


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