The Optimal Way To Browse The Internet

Hi, this is Kate from MinuteEarth. Let’s find some cat memes! This site looks good – yeah, there’s some
funny kittehs and some great cattos on here! But, hmm, not that much…yeah, the pickings
are definitely getting slimmer. Maybe we should try another site? But that means we have to FIND another site! And we’re already here… so, should we
stay or should we go? Well, it turns out that online, we forage
for information just as, say, a chickadee forages for fruit; it has to choose which
tree to visit and decide how long to nom there before abandoning it and finding another. Ecologists already have all sorts of models
to describe how animals forage. And it turns out that one of these models,
which explains how animals move between patches of food, also predicts how humans move between
websites: both you and the chickadee will forage in one place until the rate of reward
you’re getting there drops below what you think you’re likely to get elsewhere. This calculation is subconscious, of course
– you’ll just notice the tree is getting bare, and move on. It’s a matter of spending your time and
energy in a way that gets you as much reward as possible…and that’s something foraging
animals – and humans – do all the time. For instance, we’ve found that chipmunks
that take longer seed-gathering trips bring back bigger hauls than those that take short
ones. That makes sense: it’s only worth spending
lots of resources if you can score big. And a study of more than 400 robberies in
the Netherlands found that the farther burglars travel to commit their crimes, the more expensive
their loot tends to be. Researchers have even found that the longer
we search for a romantic partner, the more likely that relationship is to last; perhaps
a bigger investment leads to a better payoff. We probably optimize like animals because
we are animals, and in fact, we share critical decision-making circuitry. For instance, monkeys have special neurons
that seem to track the rate of reward the monkey is getting in a patch – when it drops
too low, the neurons send an electrical signal to the monkey, who switches to a new patch. We also have these neurons – and there’s
evidence to suggest that lots of other animals do too; they were likely so critical to making
good food-finding tradeoffs in the distant past that they were passed on over lots of
generations. This kind of shared machinery may help explain
why we behave like our non-human kin. Of course, most of us humans now find ourselves
evaluating how fruitful websites are much more often than how fruitful fruit trees are,
and the stakes of wasting your time on dumb cat memes are far lower than wasting your
time searching for sustance. But it’s not just web surfing…at what
point do you move on from a lame TV show, or ditch the long line at the DMV, or give
up on a job – or even a relationship – that you’re not that into? It turns out that the constraints – and the
underlying machinery – that guide us in these everyday scenarios are likely the same as
those that guide animals…which means that deep inside, we’re all a little bird-brained. This video was sponsored by the University
of Minnesota, where students, faculty and staff across all fields of study are working
to solve the Grand Challenges facing society. One of these challenges is Enhancing Individual
and Community Capacity for a Changing World so that we can help people make good choices
– like staying healthy – in an ever-changing environment. Ben Hayden, in the Department of Neuroscience,
studies the biological mechanisms – like reward-tracking neurons – that we use to evaluate choices. And Dave Stephens, in the Department of Ecology,
Evolution and Behavior, investigates behaviors like foraging from an evolutionary standpoint
to help us understand the broad forces that have shaped our decision-making process. Thanks, University of Minnesota!

13 thoughts on “The Optimal Way To Browse The Internet

  1. Viewer support makes MinuteEarth possible. Do you want to help us NOT have to forage for food? You can become our patron on Patreon or member on YouTube! Just visit or click "JOIN". Thanks!!

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