A central simplifying assumption in evolutionary behavioral ecology has been that optimal behavior is unaffected by genetic or proximate constraints. Observations and experiments show otherwise, so that attention to decision architecture and mechanisms is needed. In psychology, the proximate constraints on decision making and the processes from perception to behavior are collectively described as the emotion system. We specify a model of the emotion system in fish that includes sensory input, neuronal computation, developmental modulation, and a global organismic state and restricts attention during decision making for behavioral outcomes. The model further includes food competition, safety in numbers, and a fluctuating environment. We find that emergent strategies in evolved populations include common emotional appraisal of sensory input related to fear and hunger and also include frequency-dependent rules for behavioral responses. Focused attention is at times more important than spatial behavior for growth and survival. Spatial segregation of the population is driven by personality differences. By coupling proximate and immediate influences on behavior with ultimate fitness consequences through the emotion system, this approach contributes to a unified perspective on the phenotype, by integrating effects of the environment, genetics, development, physiology, behavior, life history, and evolution.
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