Foraging as sampling without replacement: a Bayesian statistical model for estimating biases in target selection

Alasdair D.F. Clarke, Amelia Hunt, Anna E. Hughes* (Corresponding Author)

*Corresponding author for this work

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5 Citations (Scopus)
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Foraging entails finding multiple targets sequentially. In humans and other animals, a key observation has been a tendency to forage in ‘runs’ of the same target type. This tendency is context-sensitive, and in humans, it is strongest when the targets are difficult to distinguish from the distractors. Many important
questions have yet to be addressed about this and other tendencies in human foraging, and a key limitation is a lack of precise measures of foraging behaviour. The standard measures tend to be run statistics, such as the maximum run length and the number of runs. But these measures are not only
interdependent, they are also constrained by the number and distribution of targets, making it difficult to make inferences about the effects of these aspects of the environment on foraging. Moreover, run statistics are underspecified about the underlying cognitive processes determining foraging behaviour.
We present an alternative approach: modelling foraging as a procedure of generative sampling without replacement, implemented in a Bayesian multilevel model. This allows us to break behaviour down into a number of biases that influence target selection, such as the proximity of targets and a bias for selecting targets in runs, in a way that is not dependent on the number of targets present. Our method thereby facilitates direct comparison of specific foraging tendencies between search environments that differ in theoretically important dimensions. We demonstrate the use of our model with simulation examples and re-analysis of existing data. We believe our model will provide deeper insights into visual foraging and provide a foundation for further modelling work in this area
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere1009813
JournalPLoS Computational Biology
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 24 Jan 2022

Bibliographical note

This research was supported by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC, ES/S016120/1). The authors would like to thank all researchers who share their data on OSF. We would also like to thank Jérôme Tagu and two anonymous reviewers for their helpful comments that greatly improved the manuscript.

Correction: Foraging as sampling without replacement: A Bayesian statistical model for estimating biases in target selection. Alasdair D. F. Clarke ,Amelia R. Hunt, Anna E. Hughes PLOS Published: March 17, 2023,

Data Availability Statement

Data and code are available at


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