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Heuristic and optimal policy computations in the human brain during sequential decision-making


Korn, Christoph W; Bach, Dominik R (2018). Heuristic and optimal policy computations in the human brain during sequential decision-making. Nature Communications, 9(1):325.

Abstract

Optimal decisions across extended time horizons require value calculations over multiple probabilistic future states. Humans may circumvent such complex computations by resorting to easy-to-compute heuristics that approximate optimal solutions. To probe the potential interplay between heuristic and optimal computations, we develop a novel sequential decision-making task, framed as virtual foraging in which participants have to avoid virtual starvation. Rewards depend only on final outcomes over five-trial blocks, necessitating planning over five sequential decisions and probabilistic outcomes. Here, we report model comparisons demonstrating that participants primarily rely on the best available heuristic but also use the normatively optimal policy. FMRI signals in medial prefrontal cortex (MPFC) relate to heuristic and optimal policies and associated choice uncertainties. Crucially, reaction times and dorsal MPFC activity scale with discrepancies between heuristic and optimal policies. Thus, sequential decision-making in humans may emerge from integration between heuristic and optimal policies, implemented by controllers in MPFC.

Abstract

Optimal decisions across extended time horizons require value calculations over multiple probabilistic future states. Humans may circumvent such complex computations by resorting to easy-to-compute heuristics that approximate optimal solutions. To probe the potential interplay between heuristic and optimal computations, we develop a novel sequential decision-making task, framed as virtual foraging in which participants have to avoid virtual starvation. Rewards depend only on final outcomes over five-trial blocks, necessitating planning over five sequential decisions and probabilistic outcomes. Here, we report model comparisons demonstrating that participants primarily rely on the best available heuristic but also use the normatively optimal policy. FMRI signals in medial prefrontal cortex (MPFC) relate to heuristic and optimal policies and associated choice uncertainties. Crucially, reaction times and dorsal MPFC activity scale with discrepancies between heuristic and optimal policies. Thus, sequential decision-making in humans may emerge from integration between heuristic and optimal policies, implemented by controllers in MPFC.

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Additional indexing

Item Type:Journal Article, refereed, original work
Communities & Collections:04 Faculty of Medicine > Psychiatric University Hospital Zurich > Clinic for Psychiatry, Psychotherapy, and Psychosomatics
Dewey Decimal Classification:610 Medicine & health
Language:English
Date:23 January 2018
Deposited On:22 Feb 2019 09:14
Last Modified:22 Feb 2019 09:16
Publisher:Nature Publishing Group
ISSN:2041-1723
OA Status:Gold
Free access at:Publisher DOI. An embargo period may apply.
Publisher DOI:https://doi.org/10.1038/s41467-017-02750-3
PubMed ID:29362449

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