Edited by Victoria Wells and Gordon Foxall
Chapter 15: Consumers are Foragers, Not Rational Actors: Towards a Behavioral Ecology of Consumer Choice
Donald A. Hantula The most fundamental challenge for humans, or any other sentient creature, is the problem of finding, securing, and using resources; or in more general terms, foraging. Without regular access to resources such as food, water and other goods, any living being will soon perish. In the behavioral ecology literature, “foraging” is a concept that incorporates a variety of theoretical propositions and empirical models addressing common questions about decision rules for predators. However, foraging is not limited solely to decisions about edible prey items per se, but rather is a general purpose set of rules and strategies for adapting to environmental risk and uncertainty, yielding both prey items and information (Stephens et al., 2007). Though foraging is sometimes mischaracterized in terms of relatively restricted behaviors (e.g., foraging is simply searching for food), it is best conceptualized in more general terms of acquisition and exchange. Indeed, the prey items modeled in foraging theory are not confined solely to food, but also include commodities as diverse as nesting materials, territory, information, access to mates, and opportunities for social behavior. Similarly, human foraging is neither constrained to our ancestral environments nor to subsistence economics; it is the naturally selected way in which we manage patchy and stochastic environments, even today. Just as we once foraged in forests and savannas we now forage in grocery stores and websites. Foraging is more than a metaphor. This chapter presents a behavioral ecology of modern human consumer choice situated in a post-industrial information-based economy. After...
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