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We used European starlings, Sturnus vulgaris, to investigate the relationship between the cost paid to obtain food rewards and preference between stimuli associated with the resulting rewards. In no-choice trials either 16 1-m flights (high effort) or four 1-m flights (low effort) gave access to differently coloured keys. Pecking at these keys resulted in identical food rewards. When subjects were given choices between the coloured keys in choice trials without having paid any effort, the majority preferred the coloured key that was paired with the higher level of work in no-choice trials. We relate our findings to results in animal behaviour, psychology and economics, and give a theoretical account that has implications for phenomena variously recognized as the 'sunk cost fallacy' (the tendency to invest more in something after much has already been invested), 'work ethics' (valuing an option more as a result of physical effort), 'cognitive dissonance' (making mental effort to overlook or re-evaluate information that does not accord with a dominant internal representation) and the 'Concorde Fallacy' (the readiness to forego more fitness for something that has been responsible for greater fitness compromise in the past). © 2002 The Association for the Study of Animal Behaviour.

Original publication




Journal article


Animal Behaviour

Publication Date





245 - 250