Vol 10, Issue 4, November 2023

Exploratory Search: Information Matters More than Primary Reward


Anselme, P. (2023). Exploratory search: Information matters more than primary reward. Animal Behavior and Cognition, 10(4), 366-383.  https://doi.org/10.26451/abc.


In the study of animal foraging, resource exploitation (prey pursuit, handling, and consumption) has received much more attention than the search or exploratory process that leads predator to potential prey—whatever they are. Yet, in an unpredictable environment, exploration is crucial to optimize resource exploitation, or at least make this latter effective enough, and maintain organisms alive and capable of reproduction in the long term. I argue that environmental exploration requires psychological mechanisms that differ from those of resource exploitation. During exploration, organisms attempt to resolve the uncertainty about reward procurement rather than attempting to obtain reward. Behaviors that do not maximize reward procurement in some experimental designs are often described as suboptimal or even “irrational.” However, these designs might expose organisms to conditions that stimulate exploration more than exploitation. I suggest three general psychological principles assumed to govern environmental exploration, and report experimental evidence that justifies each of them. These principles may help account for behaviors difficult to explain by means of traditional theoretical frameworks.


Cue, Reward, Effort, Uncertainty, Incentive, Information