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Controllability and Resource-Rational Planning


Conference Paper


Learned helplessness experiments involving controllable vs. uncontrollable stressors have shown that the perceived ability to control events has profound consequences for decision making. Normative models of decision making, however, do not naturally incorporate knowledge about controllability, and previous approaches to incorporating it have led to solutions with biologically implausible computational demands [1,2]. Intuitively, controllability bounds the differential rewards for choosing one strategy over another, and therefore believing that the environment is uncontrollable should reduce one’s willingness to invest time and effort into choosing between options. Here, we offer a normative, resource-rational account of the role of controllability in trading mental effort for expected gain. In this view, the brain not only faces the task of solving Markov decision problems (MDPs), but it also has to optimally allocate its finite computational resources to solve them efficiently. This joint problem can itself be cast as a MDP [3], and its optimal solution respects computational constraints by design. We start with an analytic characterisation of the influence of controllability on the use of computational resources. We then replicate previous results on the effects of controllability on the differential value of exploration vs. exploitation, showing that these are also seen in a cognitively plausible regime of computational complexity. Third, we find that controllability makes computation valuable, so that it is worth investing more mental effort the higher the subjective controllability. Fourth, we show that in this model the perceived lack of control (helplessness) replicates empirical findings [4] whereby patients with major depressive disorder are less likely to repeat a choice that led to a reward, or to avoid a choice that led to a loss. Finally, the model makes empirically testable predictions about the relationship between reaction time and helplessness.

Author(s): Falk Lieder and Noah D. Goodman and Quentin J.M. Huys
Book Title: Computational and Systems Neuroscience (Cosyne)
Pages: 112
Year: 2013

Department(s): Rationality Enhancement
Bibtex Type: Conference Paper (inproceedings)
Paper Type: Conference

Organization: Cosyne Abstracts
State: Published


  title = {Controllability and Resource-Rational Planning},
  author = {Lieder, Falk and Goodman, Noah D. and Huys, Quentin J.M.},
  booktitle = {{Computational and Systems Neuroscience (Cosyne)}},
  pages = {112},
  organization = {Cosyne Abstracts},
  year = {2013}