[Excerpt] Peak shift is taxonomically widespread: exhibited by birds; mammals, including humans; fish; and at least some arthropods. The phenomenon thus appears to reflect uni- versal attributes of generalization, discrimination learning, and choice-making behavior. As such, peak shift is a ‘model’ type of decision making, suitable for comparative study at functional and mechanistic levels. Using peak shift as a tractable example of decision making, a variety of organisms can be studied, with strengths differentially well suited to phylogenetic, behavioral, neural, cellular, or molecular investigations.
In addition to being well suited to study at multiple levels, considerations of peak shift go beyond what is typically investigated in research on decision making. Many models of behavioral economics maximize utility: these models consider variability in (1) the costs and benefits of obtaining resources, and how those payoffs change with body state, and (2) the probability of encountering resources of some quality. Game theoretic approaches additionally account for the effect of others’ responses on the decision maker’s own behavior. However, these models overlook the fact that an animal’s estimates of a resource’s payoff and probability are based on sensory signals emitted by the resource. Outside of the laboratory, signals, such as color or tail length, vary. This variation may exist indepen- dently of any variation in the information encoded by the signals. For example, a signal that indicates a particular food quality (yellow skin on a banana signals ripeness) may vary even if the food quality itself does not (ten bananas of the same ripeness may not share the same yellow color). Typical utility optimization approaches account for variance in resource quality, not variance in the stimuli that signal that quality. Since real world signals are noisy, our understanding of choice behavior will be incomplete with- out accounting for signal variation and uncertainty. As a signal detection issue, peak shift experiments present an opportunity to investigate the role of this signal-borne risk in decision making and its interactions with those aspects of decision making more commonly investigated.
Lynn, S.K. 2010. Decision-making and learning: The peak shift behavioral response. In M. Breed & J. Moore (Eds.), Encyclopedia of Animal Behavior (Vol. 1, pp. 470-475). Oxford: Academic Press.