Public Release: 

Time management skills keep animals primed for survival

PLOS

IMAGE?

IMAGE: Wild animals making decisions that need to be both fast and accurate. view more

Credit: Daniel Rubenstein

Many animals may have a previously under-appreciated ability to make up for lost time with more effort, according to new research publishing this week in PLOS Computational Biology.

This capability could help scientists better understand how animals make efficient decisions in changing environments -- and ultimately help ensure the survival of a species.

Researchers from Princeton University challenge the conventional view that animals face a simple trade-off between the speed and the accuracy of their decisions. Adrian de Froment, Daniel Rubenstein and Simon Levin instead suggest that this picture of a two-way trade-off is missing a crucial third component: an ability to expend effort at a greater rate to compensate for any limit to the time spent making a decision.

The researchers use the theory of statistical decision-making to show that if an animal can control not only the time it invests in each decision, but also the amount of effort it invests within each unit of time, then it can swap effort for time as the situation demands. For example, if an animal comes under pressure to decide quickly, it can limit any loss in accuracy by expending more effort in the time that remains.

This flexibility gives an animal an advantage, in terms of Darwinian fitness, over individuals that are stuck with a simple trade-off between speed and accuracy, the researchers report. Because of this fitness advantage, the authors predict that the ability to control investment of time and effort separately should be widespread in nature.

Further work is needed to test this prediction, but if it is borne out, then this updated view of a three-way exchange between speed, effort per-unit-time, and accuracy could improve our understanding of efficient decision-making in all species, including humans.

###

Image Caption: Wild animals making decisions that need to be both fast and accurate.

Image Credit: Daniel Rubenstein

Image Link: http://www.plos.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/12/18-Dec-de-Froment-Lion.jpg

All works published in PLOS Computational Biology are Open Access, which means that all content is immediately and freely available. Use this URL in your coverage to provide readers access to the paper upon publication: http://www.ploscompbiol.org/article/info:doi/10.1371/journal.pcbi.1003937

Press-only preview: http://www.plos.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/12/plcb-10-12-de-Froment.pdf

Contact: Adrian de Froment
Address: Princeton University
Ecology and Evolutionary Biology
106a Guyot Hall
Princeton, NJ 8544
UNITED STATES
Phone: 001-609-258-6880
Email: adriandefroment@gmail.com

Citation: de Froment AJ, Rubenstein DI, Levin SA (2014) An Extra Dimension to Decision-Making in Animals: The Three-way Trade-off between Speed, Effort per-Unit-Time and Accuracy. PLoS Comput Biol 10(12): e1003937. doi:10.1371/journal.pcbi.1003937

Funding: We thank Princeton University, the Burroughs-Wellcome Fund and the National Science Foundation (Grant EF-1137894) for support. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.

Competing Interests: The authors have declared that no competing interests exist.

About PLOS Computational Biology

PLOS Computational Biology features works of exceptional significance that further our understanding of living systems at all scales through the application of computational methods. All works published in PLOS Computational Biology are Open Access. All content is immediately available and subject only to the condition that the original authorship and source are properly attributed. Copyright is retained. For more information follow @PLOSCompBiol on Twitter or contact ploscompbiol@plos.org.

About PLOS

PLOS is a nonprofit publisher and advocacy organization founded to accelerate progress in science and medicine by leading a transformation in research communication. For more information, visit http://www.plos.org.

Disclaimer: AAAS and EurekAlert! are not responsible for the accuracy of news releases posted to EurekAlert! by contributing institutions or for the use of any information through the EurekAlert system.