Why we should use animals to study economic decision making - A perspective

Tobias Kalenscher*, Marijn van Wingerden

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

58 Citations (Scopus)


Despite the rich tradition in psychology and biology, animals as research subjects have never gained a similar acceptance in microeconomics research. With this article, we counter this trend of negligence and try to convey the message that animal models are an indispensible complement to the literature on human economic decision making. This perspective review departs from a description of the similarities in economic and evolutionary theories of human and animal decision making, with particular emphasis on the optimality aspect that both classes of theories have in common. In a second part, we outline that actual, empirically observed decisions often do not conform to the normative ideals of economic and ecological models, and that many of the behavioral violations found in humans can also be found in animals. In a third part, we make a case that the sense or nonsense of the behavioral violations of optimality principles in humans can best be understood from an evolutionary perspective, thus requiring animal research. Finally, we conclude with a critical discussion of the parallels and inherent differences in human and animal research.

Original languageEnglish
Article number82
JournalFrontiers in Neuroscience
Issue numberJUN
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2011
Externally publishedYes


  • Animals
  • Behavioral ecology
  • Decision making
  • Ethology
  • Neuroeconomics
  • Optimal foraging
  • Rational
  • Reward


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