Behavior is born from decision-making. Understanding behavior therefore entails a deep understanding of how organisms decide among alternatives. I experimentally manipulate options presented to animals to understand the underlying decision-making rules and mechanisms that animals use to choose mates, forage, and choose social groups.
More generally, topics and approaches I’m interested in include:
One aspect of my current research combines computer vision and animation technology with insights from cognitive scientists to study how female fish make mate choice decisions. I use poeciliid fish, a family of livebearing fish with internal fertilization, to test fundamental assumptions about how females choose mates. Using synthetic, digital male stimuli allows me to control for the effects of male behavior on female mating preferences, decouple traits that are typically correlated, and generate repeatable female preference responses.
Below is an example animation I present to female fish:
And here’s a video of a shoal of mosquitofish I animated to test whether shoaling preferences are rational:
I also study how slime molds choose among different food options. Slime molds are giant unicellular amoebas that are an attractive system for studying decision-making because of their simplicity. How much of our behavior is reflected in a simple slime mold that lacks even a nervous system?
Below is a time-lapse video of a slime mold making a choice among four food disks containing oats over the course of two days: