Humans are very sophisticated, calculating, rational decision-makers:
Brainless slime mould makes decisions like humans, Discover: A couple arrive
at a fancy restaurant and they’re offered the wine list. This establishment only
has two bottles on offer, one costing £5 and the other costing £25. The second
bottle seems too expensive and the diners select the cheaper one. The next week,
they return. Now, there’s a third bottle on the list but it’s a vintage, priced
at a staggering £1,000. Suddenly, the £25 bottle doesn’t seem all that
expensive, and this time, the diners choose it instead.
Businesses use this tactic all the time – an extremely expensive option is used
to make mid-range ones suddenly seem like attractive buys. The strategy only
works because humans like to compare our options, rather than paying attention
to their absolute values. In the wine example, the existence of the third bottle
shouldn’t matter – the £25 option costs the same amount either way, but in one
scenario it looks like a rip-off and in another, it looks like a steal. The
simple fact is that to us, a thing’s value depends on the things around it.
Economists often refer to this as “irrational”.
But if that’s the case, we’re not alone in our folly. Other animals, from birds
to bees, make choices in the same way. Now, Tanya Latty and Madeleine Beekman
from the University of Sydney, have found the same style of decision-making in a
creature that’s completely unlike any of these animals – the slime mould,
Physarum polycephalum. It’s a single-celled, amoeba-like creature that
doesn’t have a brain. ... [...continue
Posted by Mark Thoma on Tuesday, August 10, 2010 at 05:45 PM in Economics, Science |