ET3 – Information as a Resource: How Organisms Deal with Uncertainty

Lecturer: Alex Kacelnik
Fields: Comparative cognition / decision-making, learning, problem solving, intelligence.


Organisms nearly always act with incomplete information about the outcome of possible actions. They can include unpredictability into their decision process (risk sensitivity), or allocate effort to reduce uncertainty (learning, sampling). In all cases, the consequences of uncertainty, and the cost of reducing it, affect the expected payoffs, and hence can be expected to play a role in the decision mechanisms. Similarly, designers of synthetic intelligences are starting to include information-seeking (i.e. curiosity) in the behaviour of autonomous artificial systems, including problem-solving robots. I will present several lines of behavioural research in this area.


This evening lecture is a research seminar introducing current and past but relevant research. Attendants should leave with at least a sense of what the problems are, and where some of the solutions are being sought.


  • Krebs, J.R., Kacelnik, A., Taylor, P., 1978. Test of optimal sampling by foraging great tits. Nature 275, 27–31.
  • Alex Kacelnik & Claire El Mouden. Triumphs and trials of the risk paradigm. Animal Behaviour 86 (2013) 1117-1129;
  • Andrés Ojeda, Robin A. Murphy, & Alex Kacelnik. Paradoxical choice in rats: Subjective valuation and mechanism of choice. Behavioural Processes (2018) 152 73–80;
  • Vasconcelos, M., Monteiro, T., Kacelnik, A., 2015. Irrational choice and the value of information. Sci. Rep. 5, 13874.


Alex Kacelnik studied biology in Buenos Aires, Argentina, and completed a PhD on decision making in Oxford, UK in 1979. He has been professor of Behavioural Ecology at Oxford since 1990 (emeritus since 2017). Alex has worked (and continues to work) on diverse topics, including decision-making, comparative cognition, brood parasitism, tool use, learning, and communication. His work bridges across behavioural ecology, behavioural economics, experimental psychology and, more recently, Artificial Intelligence. He is presently an external Principal Investigator in the cluster of excellence ‘Science of Intelligence’ (