by Tiago Monteiro, Marco Vasconcelos, Alex Kacelnik
The integration of normative and descriptive analyses of decision processes in humans struggles with the fact that measuring preferences by different procedures yields different rankings and that humans appear irrationally impulsive (namely, show maladaptive preference for immediacy). Failure of procedure invariance has led to the widespread hypothesis that preferences are constructed “on the spot” by cognitive evaluations performed at choice time, implying that choices should take extra time in order to perform the necessary comparisons. We examine this issue in experiments with starlings (Sturnus vulgaris) and show that integrating normative and descriptive arguments is possible and may help reinterpreting human decision results. Our main findings are that (1) ranking alternatives through direct rating (response time) accurately predicts preference in choice, overcoming failures of procedure invariance; (2) preference is not constructed at choice time nor does it involve extra time (we show that the opposite is true); and (3) starlings’ choices are not irrationally impulsive but are instead directly interpretable in terms of profitability ranking. Like all nonhuman research, our protocols examine decisions by experience rather than by description, and hence support the conjecture that irrationalities that prevail in research with humans may not be observed in decisions by experience protocols.