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J Vis. 2015 Aug 1;15(11):1. doi: 10.1167/15.11.1.

Winter is coming: How humans forage in a temporally structured environment.


Much is known about visual search for single targets, but relatively little about how participants "forage" for multiple targets. One important question is how long participants will search before moving to a new display. Evidence suggests that participants should leave when intake drops below the average rate ("optimal foraging," Charnov, 1976). However, the real world has temporal structure (e.g., seasons) that could influence behavior. Does it matter if winter is coming and the next display will be worse than the last? We gave participants a series of search displays and asked them to collect targets as fast as possible. Target density was structured-rising and falling systematically across trials. We measured the duration for which participants foraged in each display (trials were terminated by participants). Foraging behavior was affected by temporal structure-counter to a simple optimal foraging account, observers searched displays longer when quality was falling compared to rising (Experiments 1 and 2). Additionally, we found that temporal structure altered explicit predictions about display quality (Experiment 2). These results demonstrate that foraging theories need to consider richer models of observers' representations of the world.

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