Human Ecology

, Volume 37, Issue 5, pp 519-531

First online:

Open Access This content is freely available online to anyone, anywhere at any time.

Propaganda, Public Information, and Prospecting: Explaining the Irrational Exuberance of Central Place Foragers During a Late Nineteenth Century Colorado Silver Rush

  • Susan M. GloverAffiliated withUniversity of California, DavisRocky Mountain Biological Laboratory Email author 


Traditionally, models of resource extraction assume individuals act as if they form strategies based on complete information. In reality, gathering information about environmental parameters may be costly. An efficient information gathering strategy is to observe the foraging behavior of others, termed public information. However, media can exploit this strategy by appearing to supply accurate information while actually shaping information to manipulate people to behave in ways that benefit the media or their clients. Here, I use Central Place Foraging (CPF) models to investigate how newspaper propaganda shaped ore foraging strategies of late nineteenth-century Colorado silver prospectors. Data show that optimistic values of silver ore published in local newspapers led prospectors to place mines at a much greater distance than was profitable. Models assuming perfect information neglect the possibility of misinformation among investors, and may underestimate the extent and degree of human impacts on areas of resource extraction.


Central place foraging Social learning Natural resource extraction Human behavioral ecology American frontier