The richer the reward, the faster you’ll likely move to reach it, study shows

December 21, 2018
Holiday shopping

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If you are wondering how long you personally are willing to stand in line to buy that hot new holiday gift, scientists at Johns Hopkins Medicine say the answer may be found in the biological rules governing how animals typically forage for food and other rewards.

They report that results of a new study in people affirm the theory known as “optimal foraging,” which holds that animals are innately wired to maximize the rewards they acquire based on such factors as the value of the reward itself and the time and effort spent to reach that reward. They also add to evidence that the richer the reward, the faster people will move to get it. In other words, if buying that awesome gift really matters, you’ll not only spend more, you may rush to be first in line to nab it.

A description of the study was published online in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

“Because animals that maximize optimal foraging live longer, in general, and are more ‘fit,’ traits that support such behavior are highly conserved in evolution and therefore are likely to inform human as well as other animal behavior,” says Reza Shadmehr, professor of biomedical engineering and neuroscience at Johns Hopkins University. “We believe that the speed at which an animal moves to the next reward, which we call ‘vigor,’ is related to this principle in people too.”

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