On Rationality of Chickens

When I was studying political economy at my university in Budapest, my professor told us about Rational Choice Theory. According to this theory human decision-making relies on choices that maximize their personal benefits and minimize the costs they have to pay. It basically means that given your circumstances and preferences you will make a choice to get the best of a situation with minimal losses. A payoff function of your decisions defines utility maximization.

The concept of rationality has dominated the field of mainstream economics. Individualistic decisions conquered the minds of the most prominent decision-makers on the national level. I always though that rational thinking and rational behavior have something to do with the fact that humans still have animal instincts and act accordingly. I thought that just like animals, humans will calculate all the odds and will behave rationally to get the maximum profit out of selfish desires to succeed.

Hence I believed that animals are the most rational creatures you can find. Hunting for food and eating as much as they could was a part of this understanding.

The fiestiest of them all

The fiestiest of them all

This March I went home to my hometown of Vladivostok. My mum has a small farm with 10 hens and 3 roosters. They run around in the garden destroying her cucumbers, cabbage, strawberries, and whatever they can find when my mum doesn’t see them.

One day I looked outside the kitchen window and saw a lonely rooster looking right at me, begging for food. This rooster isn’t the most successful among them, other chickens and roosters beat him and chase him around. I though he was smart as he knew where to come and wait for a small treat. So I got some bits and pieces of bread and started throwing them outside for him. What do you think the rooster did?

No, he didn’t eat the bread. He took one piece of bread and started making a weird sound. Upon hearing this sound three of four hens showed up and ate all the bread. He didn’t get any bread. I was simply astonished and surprised to see this. My mum noted: “Well, he needed to feed his girls.”

After all, even chickens aren’t so simplistic and selfish-oriented towards their goal maximization. If you have a chance to spend some time with chickens in the village, you will understand that they’re not that dumb.

I love nature and it amuses me all the time. I guess humans are like these chickens and roosters; they don’t calculate the odds and benefits all the time. Utility maximization doesn’t always dictate us what to do.

Watch this incredible video of Green Heron catching fish. There are some smart moves: