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Why Transitivity Violations Can Be Rational 169

ananyo writes "Organisms, including humans, are often assumed to be hard-wired by evolution to try to make optimal decisions, to the best of their knowledge. Ranking choices consistently — for example, in selecting food sources — would seem to be one aspect of such rationality. If A is preferred over B, and B over C, then surely A should be selected when the options are just A and C? This seemingly logical ordering of preferences is called transitivity. Furthermore, if A is preferred when both B and C are available, then A should 'rationally' remain the first choice when only A and B are at hand ... But sometimes animals do not display such logic. For example, honeybees and gray jays have been seen to violate the Independence of Irrational Alternatives, and so have hummingbirds ... Researchers have now used a theoretical model to show that, in fact, violations of transitivity can sometimes be the best choice (original paper) for the given situation, and therefore rational. The key is that the various choices might appear or disappear in the future. Then the decision becomes more complicated than a simple, fixed ranking of preferences. So while these choices look irrational, they aren't necessarily."
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Why Transitivity Violations Can Be Rational

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  • by turning in circles ( 2882659 ) on Wednesday January 15, 2014 @11:39AM (#45965489)
    Yes, this is the point of the article. Your ability to look into the future may make you change your current preferences. You know the dark chocolate won't run out, so to maximize your chocolate intake, you eat the milk chocolate first. If your wife were visiting her sister for an extended period of time, you'd probably eat the dark chocolate first, because you like it better.

    This is, of course, not nice (wife "I bought the dark for you and the milk for me"), but is probably rational.

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