Female peahens look at the eyespots in trains and length of long ‘fishtail’ feathers to choose mates. Image courtesy Unsplash.

We know that animals make many decisions connected to improved evolutionary fitness—choices about finding shelter, food, and mates, for example—but we don’t know much about how they make those decisions.

A recent paper co-authored by SFI Omidyar Fellow Caitlin Stern suggests that a common tool used to study human psychology, the judgment and decision-making framework, can also be used to understand the components, or “cognitive phenotypes,” of animal decisions.

Behavioral ecologists, who also consider implications of evolution and natural selection in decision-making, could build on this research to identify the neural, physiological and genetic bases of cognitive phenotypes in animals, write the study's authors. 

Read the study in Trends in Ecology and Evolution (November 2016).