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Group choice: the ideal free distribution of human social behavior.

  • J R Kraft
  • W M Baum
Publication Date
Jul 01, 2001
  • Ecology


Group choice refers to the distribution of group members between two choice alternatives over time. The ideal free distribution (IFD), an optimal foraging model from behavioral ecology, predicts that the ratio of foragers at two resource sites should equal the ratio of obtained resources, a prediction that is formally analogous to the matching law of individual choice, except that group choice is a social phenomenon. Two experiments investigated the usefulness of IFD analyses of human group choice and individual-based explanations that might account for the group-level events. Instead of nonhuman animals foraging at two sites for resources, a group of humans chose blue and red cards to receive points that could earn cash prizes. The groups chose blue and red cards in ratios in positive relation to the ratios of points associated with the cards. When group choice ratios and point ratios were plotted on logarithmic coordinates and fitted with regression lines, the slopes (i.e., sensitivity measures) approached 1.0 but tended to fall short of it (i.e., undermatching), with little bias and little unaccounted for variance. These experiments demonstrate that an IFD analysis of group choice is possible and useful, and suggest that group choice may be explained by the individual members' tendency to optimize reinforcement.

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