The nature of belief-directed exploratory choice in human decision-making
- 1 Department of Computer Science, University of Texas at Austin, Austin, TX, USA
- 2 Department of Psychology, University of Texas at Austin, Austin, TX, USA
- 3 Department of Cognitive, Perceptual and Brain Sciences, University College London, London, UK
In non-stationary environments, there is a conflict between exploiting currently favored options and gaining information by exploring lesser-known options that in the past have proven less rewarding. Optimal decision-making in such tasks requires considering future states of the environment (i.e., planning) and properly updating beliefs about the state of the environment after observing outcomes associated with choices. Optimal belief-updating is reflective in that beliefs can change without directly observing environmental change. For example, after 10 s elapse, one might correctly believe that a traffic light last observed to be red is now more likely to be green. To understand human decision-making when rewards associated with choice options change over time, we develop a variant of the classic “bandit” task that is both rich enough to encompass relevant phenomena and sufficiently tractable to allow for ideal actor analysis of sequential choice behavior. We evaluate whether people update beliefs about the state of environment in a reflexive (i.e., only in response to observed changes in reward structure) or reflective manner. In contrast to purely “random” accounts of exploratory behavior, model-based analyses of the subjects’ choices and latencies indicate that people are reflective belief updaters. However, unlike the Ideal Actor model, our analyses indicate that people’s choice behavior does not reflect consideration of future environmental states. Thus, although people update beliefs in a reflective manner consistent with the Ideal Actor, they do not engage in optimal long-term planning, but instead myopically choose the option on every trial that is believed to have the highest immediate payoff.
Keywords: decision making, reinforcement learning, Ideal Actor, Ideal Observer, POMDP, exploration, exploitation, planning
Citation: Knox WB, Otto AR, Stone P and Love BC (2012) The nature of belief-directed exploratory choice in human decision-making. Front. Psychology 2:398. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2011.00398
Received: 19 November 2011; Paper pending published: 05 December 2011;
Accepted: 27 December 2011; Published online: 31 January 2012.
, University of Maryland, USA
Copyright: © 2012 Knox, Otto, Stone and Love. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution Non Commercial License, which permits non-commercial use, distribution, and reproduction in other forums, provided the original authors and source are credited.
*Correspondence: Bradley C. Love, Department of Cognitive, Perceptual and Brain Sciences, University College London, 26 Bedford Way, Room 235, London WC1H 0AP, UK. e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
† W. Bradley Knox and A. Ross Otto have contributed equally to this work.