Date of Award:


Document Type:


Degree Name:

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




Timothy A. Shahan


Kerry E. Jordan


Gregory J. Madden


Humans and animals often make decisions not in their long-term best interest. In one example, called suboptimal choice, pigeons sacrifice food for food-predictive stimuli. The study of suboptimal choice can reveal insights into the role of reward-predictive stimuli in maladaptive decision-making that characterizes numerous behavioral disorders. However, there is currently little evidence that rats engage in suboptimal choice, thereby raising questions about the species-generality of suboptimal choice. According to the temporal information-theoretic model, developed in Chapter 2, suboptimal choice emerges when pigeons pay more attention to the bits of temporal information conveyed by food-predictive stimuli than the rate of food delivery while making decisions. When there is a long delay to food, more attention is paid to food-predictive stimuli and suboptimal choice emerges in pigeons. Chapter 3 found that rats also engaged in suboptimal choice provided a sufficiently long delay to food. Further, when there is also a long delay to food-predictive stimuli, more attention is paid to the rate of food delivery and optimal choice emerges in pigeons. Chapter 4 found that suboptimal choice in rats was unaffected by delays to food-predictive stimuli. Thus, the processes that govern suboptimal choice are well-described by the temporal information- theoretic model of suboptimal choice for both rats and pigeons, though there might be species-differences in the variables that govern attention to food-predictive stimuli and food itself.



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