Social search has stably evolved across various species and is often used by humans to search for resources (such as food, information, social partners). In turn, these resources frequently come distributed in patches or clusters. In the current work, we use an ecologically inspired agent-based model to investigate whether social search and clustering are stable outcomes of the dynamical mutual interactions between the two. While previous research has studied unidirectional influences of social search on resource clustering and vice versa, the current work investigates the consequential patterns emerging from their two-way interactions over time. In our model, consumers evolved search strategies (ranging from competitive to social) as adaptations to their environmental resource structures, and resources varied in distributions (ranging from random to clustered) that were shaped by agents’ consumption patterns. Across four experiments, we systematically analyzed the patterns of influence that search strategies and environment structure have on each other to identify stable attractor states of both. In Experiment 1, we fixed resource clustering at various levels and observed its influence on social search, and in Experiment 2, we observed the influence of social search on resource distribution. In both these experiments we found that increasing levels of one variable produced increases in the other; however, at very high levels of the manipulated variable, the dependent variable tended to fall. Finally in Experiments 3 and 4, we studied the dynamics that arose when resource clustering and social search could both change and mutually influence each other, finding that low levels of social search and clustering were stable attractor states. Our simple 2D model yielded results that qualitatively resemble those across a wide range of search domains (from physical search for food to abstract search for information), highlighting some stable outcomes of mutually interacting consumer/resource systems.

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