An Experimental Task to Explore the Effects of Age and Sex on Social Foraging Behavior

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Human foraging behavior has been extensively studied by researchers from several disciplines, from those focusing on foragers in the field to those investigating underlying cognitive processes using computational tasks in laboratory settings. In an attempt to combine the physical constraints involved in real life foraging with the need for experimentally manipulable conditions, we developed a task that takes place in large outdoor areas. In the present study, we used this task to investigate how the interactions of 2 main biological factors, sex and age, influence social foraging behavior. We evaluated the performance of same- and mixed-sex dyads of 3 age groups (6-, 12- and 18+-year olds) working together to locate and collect items of 2 different degrees of conspicuity. The spatial distribution of target items in the arena attempted to recreate the basic gathering conditions of a previous study that tracked the paths of indigenous foragers collecting mushrooms. We found strong behavioral effects consistent with previous findings in the field despite participants being urbanites with no rural foraging experience. Most notably, dyads of young participants searched very close together, whereas adult male, but not adult female dyads, searched far apart from each other. We propose modifications to the current experimental setup that could pose a more challenging task that might reveal even clearer differences in the development of foraging strategies by each sex.

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