'Exploration' of human searching strategies in an heterogeneous environment

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CSSS Santa Fe 2009


Organisms move to explore their environment, to search for food and to find mates, constantly making decisions about when and where to go. The success of these routine activities depends on the searching strategies that they adopt. In the absence of any knowledge of the environment, an important question is: What statistical strategy will be the most efficient to find food? Or more specifically: Which is the distribution from where the organism should choose the duration of its forward movements? It has been suggested that a particular class of random walks, known as Lévy walks, offers optimal stochastic search strategies when faced with environmental uncertainty.


Some interesting questions to ask now are:

  • What will be the effect of landscape structure and quality uncertainty of known targets in the individual decision making process and in the statistical strategy that the organism adopts to find what it is looking for?
  • What will be the effect of adding competitors for the same targets?

To answer these questions we would like to do a field experiment with humans in the soccer field with different distributions of targets.



We will distribute 20 targets along the field. The positions of the targets will be initially random and each target will have a quality value associated. The quality value will represent the number of food items kept in the target. The number of food items will follow a specific distribution.


Try to maximize the number of food items (chocolate) collected from the targets.


  • Each individual can start at any position in the field.
  • Individuals will move from target to target.
  • Individuals can only visit 12 targets from the total of 20.
  • Individuals can choose any target, with the exception of the following rule.
  • Once one target is visited, another target has to be visited first before coming back to the already visited target.
  • Only one chocolate can be removed from the target at each time.
  • Try to hide the contents of each target from another players (in case there are competitors in the game).
  • Try to spend as less time as possible in each target.

Tracking the movement of each player

Each target will have a number associated and we will track the movement of each player by the sequence number of targets visited.

Volunteers -- sign up!


(In the soccer field after the frisbee game)

  • Murad
  • Dave
  • Tom
  • Randy
  • JP

We had today our first experiments and we had some interesting decision-making processes. Thank you so much for all the help. Tomorrow we will continue with more at SFI!


(At SFI: after tutorial)

  • Almut
  • Sean
  • Allison
  • Marek
  • Dave
  • Elliot
  • Angela