In effect, the animals seemed to consider the deliberation time not to be part of their investment — an indication, Dr. Redish said, that different brain processes might be at work in different aspects of decision-making.
The idea runs counter to the notion that “time is time, and you’re wasting it either way,” he said.
Shelly Flagel, an associate professor of psychiatry at the University of Michigan who was not involved in the study, said the research had “far-reaching implications across fields including education, economics, psychology, neuroscience and psychiatry.”
For example, she said, persisting in a behavior even though it has adverse consequences is reminiscent of the conduct “exhibited by people with addictions.”
“Once they start searching for their next ‘fix,’ they will often go hours or days on the same quest, even if it means giving up food, relationships, their job,” Dr. Flagel said.
Learning more about the distinct processes that go awry in psychiatric disorders like addiction might yield new strategies for treatment, she added.
In the study, led by a doctoral student, Brian M. Sweis, three research laboratories at the University of Minnesota collaborated to conduct tests on mice, rats and humans. The rodents were trained to forage for the flavored pellets — banana, chocolate, grape or plain — in a square maze with a “restaurant” in each corner.
The humans were taught to “forage” on a computer for videos of kittens, “dance landscapes” or bicycle accidents. Both rodents and humans were given an overall time limit for the foraging tasks.