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Nat Commun. 2018 Jan 23;9(1):325. doi: 10.1038/s41467-017-02750-3.

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

Korn CW1,2,3, Bach DR4,5,6.

Author information

1
Division of Clinical Psychiatry Research, Department of Psychiatry, Psychotherapy, and Psychosomatics; Psychiatric Hospital, University of Zurich, Lengstrasse 31, 8032, Zurich, Switzerland. c.korn@uke.de.
2
Neuroscience Center Zurich, University of Zurich, Winterthurerstrasse 190, 8057, Zurich, Switzerland. c.korn@uke.de.
3
Institute for Systems Neuroscience, University Medical Center Hamburg-Eppendorf, Martinistrasse 52, 20246, Hamburg, Germany. c.korn@uke.de.
4
Division of Clinical Psychiatry Research, Department of Psychiatry, Psychotherapy, and Psychosomatics; Psychiatric Hospital, University of Zurich, Lengstrasse 31, 8032, Zurich, Switzerland.
5
Neuroscience Center Zurich, University of Zurich, Winterthurerstrasse 190, 8057, Zurich, Switzerland.
6
Wellcome Trust Centre for Neuroimaging, University College London, 12 Queen Square, London, WC1N 3BG, United Kingdom.

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.

PMID:
29362449
PMCID:
PMC5780427
DOI:
10.1038/s41467-017-02750-3
[Indexed for MEDLINE]
Free PMC Article

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