An animal will stop foraging in a berry bush if the perceived cost of searching for berries remaining is greater than the cost of finding another bush which isn't as picked over. People do the same thing on websites. We'll stay on a website searching for our information berry if we feel it costs less than jumping to another website bush.

If we had significant resources such that the cost of predatory/foraging behavior out-weighed the energy benefit from gaining more resources, would we stop? There seems to be a biological and cultural drive to keep getting more stuff. As people, could we ever reach a point where we're satisfied? The logic says yes, but common sense says we're hardwired to feel compelled to never stop gathering resources.

  • $\begingroup$ I really think this is so. This has been studied by behavioral economists quite a lot - Daniel Arielly's book "Predictably Irrational" and the work of Daniel Kahneman might be a good direction to browse if you feel that interested in it. $\endgroup$ – shigeta Dec 20 '12 at 20:02
  • $\begingroup$ Good edit, @DQdlM. I changed the word consuming to gather because it seems we'll never stop consuming, but would we stop hunting/foraging if we knew the cost was more than the benefit? I was the one who originally used the word "consuming" in my post. My fault. Thanks for the edit. :) $\endgroup$ – Tyler Langan Dec 21 '12 at 18:20
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    $\begingroup$ It's called "addiction", or "obsessive-compulsive behaviour". Unfortunately not every behaviour is explained by rational calculation. $\endgroup$ – Andrei Dec 21 '12 at 19:02
  • $\begingroup$ There are cases where such behaviors are clearly hardwired or due to the way our brain learns. $\endgroup$ – shigeta Dec 21 '12 at 19:25

The answer to your question is very sensitive to the time frame you are interested in. Assuming the costs and benefits you describe are referring to fitness (i.e., survival and reproduction), then the situation you are describing is one in which a particular behavior has lowered fitness (i.e., costs outweigh benefits).

There are several possible outcomes in this case.

  1. Evolution. If the behavior is not plastic (i.e., it cannot change in a single individual), the there would be selection pressure against those individuals that exhibit the behavior. If the behavior is heritable then evolution would cause a reduction in the frequency of the behavior over time.

  2. Lowered Fitness. If you are not interested in evolutionary time scales but the behavior is not plastic, then the outcome would be no change in behavior but a reduction in the survival and reproduction success of individuals with the behavior.

  3. Change in Behavior. If the behavior is plastic (i.e., it can be changed by a single human) and the current situation provides the appropriate information about the state of the behavior, then the behavior will change. The key here (as with optimal foraging models) is that the appropriate cues have to be present to change the behavior. Often organisms use proxy cues to trigger behavioral shifts. For example certain caterpillars use day length to trigger shifts in developmental pathways (diapause vs pupation) when what really matters is temperature.

So the real answer to your question lies in the further questions of whether consumption is plastic (or hardwired as you say) and if it is, whether a situation provides the appropriate cues to indicate that we have acquired enough resources. Those are rather complex questions that, as far as I know have not been answered definitively in the general sense that your question implies.

  • $\begingroup$ Wow, it's so hard for me to think in all these biological perspectives. Now it's apparent I don't have a very strong foundation in biology ("schema") to put all these ideas. Thanks for your insight. :) Clearly there's lots I can learn! $\endgroup$ – Tyler Langan Dec 21 '12 at 18:28

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