Decision ecology: what natural decision-making tells us about the structure of the brain and neural systems

Published on September 28, 2017   35 min
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My name is Dave Stephens. I'm a professor at the University of Minnesota. I have a longstanding interest in the evolution of cognitive phenomenon, sort of learning and decision making. And today, I want to talk about a topic that I call Decision Ecology. And in decision ecology, we're concerned about how decision making systems reflect the natural world, the world in which animals live.
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And I'd like to start by talking about a specific problem, which will be kind of the framework around which we'll discuss this problem. And I want to focus on this particular animal, this is a pileated woodpecker. This is a large North American woodpecker, slightly bigger than a crow. I don't know if you know how woodpeckers feed, but we're going to talk about feeding behavior in particular. But woodpeckers peck wood because they eat the insects that are hidden beneath the bark. And what they tend to do is fly from tree trunk to tree trunk. They fly down to the bottom of the tree trunk, and then they work their way up the tree trunk, often spiraling up and as they move up the tree trunk, they are both listening and looking for signs of insect disturbance in the bark of the tree. And when they see this, they will dig into it. They will literally peck the wood. That's where the name woodpecker comes from. And they will dig out these insects and consume them. So it's a pretty amazing phenomenon in many ways. A sort of, they obviously are sensing something that humans don't sense when they do this. They are spectacular animals. But I want to talk a little bit about the way they exploit their environment.
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Decision ecology: what natural decision-making tells us about the structure of the brain and neural systems

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