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Saturday, November 6, 2021

Generating Options and Choosing Between Them Depend on Distinct Forms of Value Representation

Morris, A., Phillips, J., Huang, K., & 
Cushman, F. (2021). 
Psychological Science. 


Humans have a remarkable capacity for flexible decision-making, deliberating among actions by modeling their likely outcomes. This capacity allows us to adapt to the specific features of diverse circumstances. In real-world decision-making, however, people face an important challenge: There are often an enormous number of possibilities to choose among, far too many for exhaustive consideration. There is a crucial, understudied prechoice step in which, among myriad possibilities, a few good candidates come quickly to mind. How do people accomplish this? We show across nine experiments (N = 3,972 U.S. residents) that people use computationally frugal cached value estimates to propose a few candidate actions on the basis of their success in past contexts (even when irrelevant for the current context). Deliberative planning is then deployed just within this set, allowing people to compute more accurate values on the basis of context-specific criteria. This hybrid architecture illuminates how typically valuable thoughts come quickly to mind during decision-making.

From the General Discussion

Salience effects, such as recency, frequency of consideration, and extremity, likely also contribute to consideration (Kahneman, 2003; Tversky & Kahneman, 1973). Our results supported at least one salience effect: In Studies 4 through 6, in addition to our primary effect of high cached value, options with more extreme cached values relative to the mean also tended to come to mind (see the checkmark shape in Fig. 3d). Salience effects such as this may have a functional basis, such as conserving scarce cognitive resources (Lieder et al., 2018). An ideal general theory would specify how these diverse factors—including many others, such as personality traits, social roles, and cultural norms (Smaldino & Richerson, 2012)—form a coherent, adaptive design for option generation.

A growing body of work suggests that value influences what comes to mind not only during decision-making but also in many other contexts, such as causal reasoning, moral judgment, and memory recall (Bear & Knobe, 2017; Braun et al., 2018; Hitchcock & Knobe, 2009; Mattar & Daw, 2018; Phillips et al., 2019). A key inquiry going forward will be the role of cached versus context-specific value estimation in these cases.