Foraging under conditions of short-term exploitative competition: The case of stock traders

Serguei Saavedra*, R. Dean Malmgren, Nicholas Switanek, Brian Uzzi

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

9 Scopus citations


Theory purports that animal foraging choices evolve to maximize returns, such as net energy intake. Empirical research in both human and non-human animals reveals that individuals often attend to the foraging choices of their competitors while making their own foraging choices. Owing to the complications of gathering field data or constructing experiments, however, broad facts relating theoretically optimal and empirically realized foraging choices are only now emerging. Here, we analyse foraging choices of a cohort of professional day traders who must choose between trading the same stock multiple times in a row-patch exploitation-or switching to a different stock-patch exploration-with potentially higher returns. We measure the difference between a trader's resource intake and the competitors' expected intake within a short period of time-a difference we call short-term comparative returns. We find that traders' choices can be explained by foraging heuristics that maximize their daily short-term comparative returns. However, we find no one-best relationship between different trading choices and net income intake. This suggests that traders' choices can be short-term win oriented and, paradoxically, maybe maladaptive for absolute market returns.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number20122319
JournalProceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Issue number1755
StatePublished - Mar 22 2013


  • Foraging
  • Human activity
  • Maladaptive behaviour
  • Short-term competition

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Immunology and Microbiology
  • General Environmental Science
  • General Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology
  • General Agricultural and Biological Sciences


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