A Simple Threshold Rule Is Sufficient to Explain Sophisticated Collective Decision-Making
by Elva J. H. Robinson, Nigel R. Franks, Samuel Ellis, Saki Okuda, James A. R. Marshall
Decision-making animals can use slow-but-accurate strategies, such as making multiple comparisons, or opt for simpler, faster strategies to find a ‘good enough’ option. Social animals make collective decisions about many group behaviours including foraging and migration. The key to the collective choice lies with individual behaviour. We present a case study of a collective decision-making process (house-hunting ants, Temnothorax albipennis), in which a previously proposed decision strategy involved both quality-dependent hesitancy and direct comparisons of nests by scouts. An alternative possible decision strategy is that scouting ants use a very simple quality-dependent threshold rule to decide whether to recruit nest-mates to a new site or search for alternatives. We use analytical and simulation modelling to demonstrate that this simple rule is sufficient to explain empirical patterns from three studies of collective decision-making in ants, and can account parsimoniously for apparent comparison by individuals and apparent hesitancy (recruitment latency) effects, when available nests differ strongly in quality. This highlights the need to carefully design experiments to detect individual comparison. We present empirical data strongly suggesting that best-of-n comparison is not used by individual ants, although individual sequential comparisons are not ruled out. However, by using a simple threshold rule, decision-making groups are able to effectively compare options, without relying on any form of direct comparison of alternatives by individuals. This parsimonious mechanism could promote collective rationality in group decision-making.
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