Patch exploitation as choice: Symmetric choice in an asymmetric situation?

David W Stephens, Aimee S. Dunlap

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Scopus citations


In the present paper, we explore a novel preparation for the study of animal choice behaviour designed to capture some aspects of naturally occurring patch exploitation. Although one can cast the problem of patch exploitation as a binary choice, naturally occurring patch-leaving decisions are inevitably asymmetric. We asked whether captive blue jays, Cyanocitta cristata, treat leaving and staying in the same way. To do this we factorially varied the delays associated with leaving and staying in a food patch. In addition, we manipulated our subject's level of motivation (e.g. hunger) using prefeeding treatments. We found that hungry subjects came closest to our prediction of treating leaving and staying in the same way, but that less motivated subjects showed a pronounced and surprising bias in favour of leaving. We discuss the implications of results for experimental and theoretical studies and choice behaviour. We suggest that students of choice behaviour need to understand the sources of such biases because naturally occurring choice situations are seldom perfectly symmetrical.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)683-689
Number of pages7
JournalAnimal Behaviour
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 2011

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We thank Carmen Silvers for her competent management of this experiment and our colony of experimental subjects. In addition, we were lucky to have the assistance of several undergraduate research assistants including Heather Oehler, Rebecca Wilson, Ozgul Ugurlu, Busra Guzel, Jes Hanson and Jordan Wein. We gratefully acknowledge the support of the National Science Foundation via grant number IBN-0235261 . We conducted this research with the approval of the University of Minnesota Institutional Animal Use and Care Committee (Protocol number: 0512A78168).


  • Blue jay
  • Choice
  • Foraging
  • Impulsivity
  • Patch exploitation


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