Is collective nest site selection in ants influenced by the anchoring effect?

Grant Navid Doering, Lucas W. Talken, Stephen C. Pratt, Takao Sasaki

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Evolutionary theory predicts that animals make decisions that maximize fitness. If so, they are expected to adhere to principles of rational choice, which a decision-maker must follow to reliably maximize net benefit. For example, evaluation of an option should not be influenced by the quality of other unchosen options. However, humans and other animals are known to evaluate a mediocre option more favorably after encountering poor options than after encountering no options, a phenomenon known as the ‘anchoring effect’. Rationality is also expected in the consensus decisions of animal societies, but the anchoring effect has not previously been tested in that context. Here we show that colonies of the rock ant, Temnothorax rugatulus, demonstrate the anchoring effect during nest site selection — colonies moved more readily from a mediocre nest to a good nest when exposed to poor nests than when exposed to mediocre nests. This effect depended on both current conditions and past experience; movement probability was affected only when colonies were exposed to surrounding nests before and during the emigration. The effect was small, reaching statistical significance in only one of two experimental replicates. We discuss possible mechanisms and ultimate explanations for why colonies show this seemingly suboptimal behavior.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number104861
JournalBehavioural processes
StatePublished - May 2023
Externally publishedYes


  • Anchoring effect
  • Decision-making
  • Ebbinghaus effect
  • Heuristics
  • Rationality
  • Temnothorax

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Animal Science and Zoology
  • Behavioral Neuroscience


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