Put 'em Up

We are told that animals will fight over things ‘worth fighting for’ such as food, water, nest sites or mates. These are all demonstratively important resources to the animals involved. We, on the other hand, suffer from ‘big brain syndrome’, and will readily fight over ideologies, especially those that include religion and honor. Of course, that doesn’t preclude us from fighting over resources, just like the all the rest of our cousins out there.

The question to ask, at least I hope that we ask it, is “what is the value of the resource that we are going to fight over?” As you are squaring off, your perception of the value may be incorrect. You perception can change with your recent situation. For example, you might fight over a pile of dollar bills if you were broke, but might not value the pile very highly if you had just won the lottery. And you can see that when it comes to fighting over a potential mate, that the decisions become clouded in the mists of one imagination.

The Dugatkins from Louisville have just published a study on fighting decisions (1). They use food as the ‘resource’ to be fought over, and instead of have a class of students duking it out over beer and burgers, they used a computer simulation so that the results would be applicable to other species, whether more enlightened or not. They set up the rules to include over or underestimation of the value of the resource as well, as decisions made on a full or empty belly. The results were analyzed on the will to fight, and a random curve ball was thrown in in the form of whether a unit was a winner or a loser.

The key factor in success was the overestimation of the value of the resource. Those units that consistently overvalued the resources at stake, whether hungry or not, fared best in the predicted outcome of the model fights. 

Now I really, really like chocolate chip cookies, so if there is only one left on the plate, look out!

  1. http://www.plosone.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0019924

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