Animal Cognition

, Volume 16, Issue 4, pp 543–556 | Cite as

Decision-making theories: linking the disparate research areas of individual and collective cognition



In order to maximize their fitness, animals have to deal with different environmental and social factors that affect their everyday life. Although the way an animal behaves might enhance its fitness or survival in regard to one factor, it could compromise them regarding another. In the domain of decision sciences, research concerning decision making focuses on performances at the individual level but also at the collective one. However, between individual and collective decision making, different terms are used resulting in little or no connection between both research areas. In this paper, we reviewed how different branches of decision sciences study the same concept, mainly called speed-accuracy trade-off, and how the different results are on the same track in terms of showing the optimality of decisions. Whatever the level, individual or collective, each decision might be defined with three parameters: time or delay to decide, risk and accuracy. We strongly believe that more progress would be possible in this domain of research if these different branches were better linked, with an exchange of their results and theories. A growing amount of literature describes economics in humans and eco-ethology in birds making compromises between starvation, predation and reproduction. Numerous studies have been carried out on social cognition in primates but also birds and carnivores, and other publications describe market or reciprocal exchanges of commodities. We therefore hope that this paper will lead these different areas to a common decision science.


Optimality Primates Insects Diffusion Model Delay Risk Speed-accuracy Trade-off 



CS was funded by the Fyssen Foundation and the USIAS (University of Strasbourg Institute for Advanced Studies). We thank Joanna Munro (Munro Language Services) for English editing.


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© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Ethobiosciences, Research and Consultancy Agency in Animal Wellbeing and BehaviourStrasbourgFrance
  2. 2.Département Ecologie, Physiologie et Ethologie, Centre National de la Recherche ScientifiqueStrasbourgFrance
  3. 3.Institut Pluridisciplinaire Hubert CurienUniversité de StrasbourgStrasbourgFrance
  4. 4.Unit of Social EcologyUniversité libre de BruxellesBrusselsBelgium

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