Evolution and the Mechanisms of Decision Making


How do we make decisions? Conventional decision theory tells us only which behavioral choices we ought to make if we follow certain axioms. In real life, however, our choices are governed by cognitive mechanisms shaped over evolutionary time through the process of natural selection. Evolution has created strong biases in how and when we process information, and it is these evolved cognitive building blocks—from signal detection and memory to individual and social learning—that provide the foundation for our choices. An evolutionary perspective thus sheds necessary light on the nature of how we and other animals make decisions.

This volume—with contributors from a broad range of disciplines, including evolutionary biology, psychology, economics, anthropology, neuroscience, and computer science—offers a multidisciplinary examination of what evolution can tell us about our and other animals' mechanisms of decision making. Human children, for example, differ from chimpanzees in their tendency to over-imitate others and copy obviously useless actions; this divergence from our primate relatives sets up imitation as one of the important mechanisms underlying human decision making. The volume also considers why and when decision mechanisms are robust, why they vary across individuals and situations, and how social life affects our decisions.

Table of Contents

  1. The Ernst Strüngmann Forum
  2. List of Contributors
  3. 1. Six Reasons for Invoking Evolution in Decision Theory
  4. I. Biological and Cognitive Prerequisites
  5. 2. Putting Mechanisms into Behavioral Ecology
  6. 3. Machinery of Cognition
  7. 4. Building Blocks of Human Decision Making
  8. 5. Error Management
  9. 6. Neuroethology of Decision Making
  10. 7. Decision Making: What Can Evolution Do for Us?
  11. II. Robustness in a Variable Environment
  12. 8. Robustness in Biological and Social Systems
  13. 9. Robust Neural Decision Making
  14. 10. Advantages of Cognitive Limitations
  15. 11. Modularity and Decision Making
  16. 12. Robustness in a Variable Environment
  17. III. Variation in Decision Making
  18. 13. Biological Analogs of Personality
  19. 14. Sources of Variation within the Individual
  20. 15. Variation in Decision Making
  21. IV. Evolutionary Perspectives on Social Cognition
  22. 16. The Cognitive Underpinnings of Social Behavior: Selectivity in Social Cognition
  23. 17. Early Social Cognition: How Psychological Mechanisms Can Inform Models of Decision Makiing
  24. 18. Who Cares? Other-Regarding Concerns-Decisions with Feeling
  25. 19. Learning, Cognitive Limitations, and the Modeling of Social Behavior
  26. 20. Evolutionary Perspectives on Social Cognition
  27. Bibliography
  28. Subject Index