Assessment and decision making in animals: a mechanistic model underlying behavioral flexibility can prevent ambiguity

Daniel T. Blumstein, Amos Bouskila

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

72 Scopus citations


Understanding how animals make decisions is a fundamental question in behavioral ecology which has cascading effects on how animals respond to environmental variation. An explicit model of the mechanisms of information processing and decision making can help prevent conflated definitions and ambiguous interpretations. Unambiguous definitions are crucial for clear communication between theoreticians and empiricists and for the rapid advancement of studies of decision making. Moreover, employing a clear model of underlying proximal processes will help bridge the gap between cognitive psychology and behavioral ecology and should aid scientific advancement. We present a simple model to guide studies of assessment and decision making. According to the model, individuals assess perceived stimuli and evaluate them for useful information. The association between perceived stimuli and evaluated information involves 'assessment rules'. Based on evaluated information, individuals can employ trade-offs and make decisions. The association between the result of assessment and observed behavior involves 'decision rules'. The model clearly emphasizes that the study of decision rules requires knowledge of the results of assessment, and we acknowledge the difficulty of studying assessment. However, without this knowledge, we can only study decision rules when we assume assessment rules between subjects are identical (i.e., with a uniform group of subjects). The simple model an be used to structure the design and interpretation of studies of assessment and decision making and help theoreticians and empiricists work together to understand behavioral flexibility.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)569-576
Number of pages8
Issue number3
StatePublished - 1 Jan 1996

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics


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