Context-dependent decisions among options varying in a single dimension

Kate V. Morgan, T. Andrew Hurly, Melissa Bateson, Lucy Asher, Susan D. Healy

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

31 Citations (Scopus)


Contrary to theories of rational choice, adding alternatives to a choice set can change the choices made by both humans and animals. This is usually done by adding an inferior decoy to a choice set of two favoured options that are characterized on two distinct dimensions. We presented wild, free-living rufous hummingbirds (Selasphorus rufus) with choices between two or three options that varied in a single dimension only. The options varied in concentration, in volume or in corolla length. When the options varied in concentration, the addition of a medium option to a choice set of a low and a high concentration caused birds to increase their preference for the high option. However, they decreased their preference for the high concentration option when a low option was added to a choice set of high and medium concentrations. When the options varied only in volume, the addition of a high volume option to a choice set of low and medium options decreased the birds' preference for the medium option. We saw no effects of adding a third option when the options varied in corolla length alone. Hummingbirds, then, make context-dependent decisions even when the options vary in only a single dimension although which effect occurs seems to depend on the dimension being manipulated. None of the current theories alone adequately explain these results. (C) 2011 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)115-120
Number of pages6
JournalBehavioural Processes
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2012


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