Human foraging behavior: A virtual reality investigation on area restricted search in humans


The control of attention and the control of movement in space share a similar optimal control structure—mediating the trade-off between exploiting one locale and exploring others. A common spatial foraging strategy observed in many species is area-restricted search, in which animals respond to resources or their absence by moving between local and global search strategies, respectively. When resources are clustered, area-restricted search can represent an optimal foraging strategy. Surprisingly few studies have investigated whether humans display such behavior in the context of spatial navigation. Here we present two experiments in which human participants search for resources distributed over a large virtual environment. By systematically manipulating the specific distribution of the resources the first experiment investigates human’s ability to perform area-restricted search. The second experiment probes for the patch-leaving rules humans apply when facing resources distributed in patches that differ in quality. Our results indicate that humans forage in space using an area-restricted search, but do so in a non-optimal way—consistent with other studies showing non-optimal search strategies in memory.

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