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When choice is just timing

Alex Kacelnik

Oxford University, UK

I will discuss the Sequential Choice Model, that explains many examples of animal choice as the result of timing processes. The SCM states that animals assign a stochastic distribution of ‘latencies’, or time to acceptance, to each alternative in their environment. These latencies reflect ecological costs and benefits in environments where sequential choices predominate, hence the model’s name. According to the SCM, the same distributions are sampled whether options are met alone or simultaneously, but in the latter case the alternative that generates shorter latency is the only one expressed and appears to an observer as a choice. The SCM implies that latency distributions in simultaneous choices censor each other, so that shorter samples from each distribution have higher representation in simultaneous than in sequential choices. It follows that observed latencies to choose are shorter when number of alternatives increases, the opposite of predictions if choosing required cognitive evaluation, as assumed when behaviour is framed as choice. This, and other predictions of SCM fit the behaviour of starlings in a variety of paradigms, including self-control, time-left, and risky choice.