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2019


Life Improvement Science: A Manifesto
Life Improvement Science: A Manifesto

Lieder, F.

December 2019 (article) In revision

Abstract
Rapid technological advances present unprecedented opportunities for helping people thrive. This manifesto presents a road map for establishing a solid scientific foundation upon which those opportunities can be realized. It highlights fundamental open questions about the cognitive underpinnings of effective living and how they can be improved, supported, and augmented. These questions are at the core of my proposal for a new transdisciplinary research area called life improvement science. Recent advances have made these questions amenable to scientific rigor, and emerging approaches are paving the way towards practical strategies, clever interventions, and (intelligent) apps for empowering people to reach unprecedented levels of personal effectiveness and wellbeing.

Life improvement science: a manifesto DOI [BibTex]


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Doing More with Less: Meta-Reasoning and Meta-Learning in Humans and Machines

Griffiths, T. L., Callaway, F., Chang, M. B., Grant, E., Krueger, P. M., Lieder, F.

Current Opinion in Behavioral Sciences, 29, pages: 24-30, October 2019 (article)

Abstract
Artificial intelligence systems use an increasing amount of computation and data to solve very specific problems. By contrast, human minds solve a wide range of problems using a fixed amount of computation and limited experience. We identify two abilities that we see as crucial to this kind of general intelligence: meta-reasoning (deciding how to allocate computational resources) and meta-learning (modeling the learning environment to make better use of limited data). We summarize the relevant AI literature and relate the resulting ideas to recent work in psychology.

DOI [BibTex]

DOI [BibTex]


How do people learn how to plan?
How do people learn how to plan?

Jain, Y. R., Gupta, S., Rakesh, V., Dayan, P., Callaway, F., Lieder, F.

Conference on Cognitive Computational Neuroscience, September 2019 (conference)

Abstract
How does the brain learn how to plan? We reverse-engineer people's underlying learning mechanisms by combining rational process models of cognitive plasticity with recently developed empirical methods that allow us to trace the temporal evolution of people's planning strategies. We find that our Learned Value of Computation model (LVOC) accurately captures people's average learning curve. However, there were also substantial individual differences in metacognitive learning that are best understood in terms of multiple different learning mechanisms-including strategy selection learning. Furthermore, we observed that LVOC could not fully capture people's ability to adaptively decide when to stop planning. We successfully extended the LVOC model to address these discrepancies. Our models broadly capture people's ability to improve their decision mechanisms and represent a significant step towards reverse-engineering how the brain learns increasingly effective cognitive strategies through its interaction with the environment.

How do people learn to plan? How do people learn to plan? [BibTex]

How do people learn to plan? How do people learn to plan? [BibTex]


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Testing Computational Models of Goal Pursuit

Mohnert, F., Tosic, M., Lieder, F.

CCN2019, September 2019 (conference)

Abstract
Goals are essential to human cognition and behavior. But how do we pursue them? To address this question, we model how capacity limits on planning and attention shape the computational mechanisms of human goal pursuit. We test the predictions of a simple model based on previous theories in a behavioral experiment. The results show that to fully capture how people pursue their goals it is critical to account for people’s limited attention in addition to their limited planning. Our findings elucidate the cognitive constraints that shape human goal pursuit and point to an improved model of human goal pursuit that can reliably predict which goals a person will achieve and which goals they will struggle to pursue effectively.

link (url) DOI Project Page [BibTex]


Cognitive Prostheses for Goal Achievement
Cognitive Prostheses for Goal Achievement

Lieder, F., Chen, O. X., Krueger, P. M., Griffiths, T. L.

Nature Human Behavior, 3, August 2019 (article)

Abstract
Procrastination and impulsivity take a significant toll on people’s lives and the economy at large. Both can result from the misalignment of an action's proximal rewards with its long-term value. Therefore, aligning immediate reward with long-term value could be a way to help people overcome motivational barriers and make better decisions. Previous research has shown that game elements, such as points, levels, and badges, can be used to motivate people and nudge their decisions on serious matters. Here, we develop a new approach to decision support that leveragesartificial intelligence and game elements to restructure challenging sequential decision problems in such a way that it becomes easier for people to take the right course of action. A series of four increasingly more realistic experiments suggests that this approach can enable people to make better decisions faster, procrastinate less, complete their work on time, and waste less time on unimportant tasks. These findings suggest that our method is a promising step towards developing cognitive prostheses that help people achieve their goals by enhancing their motivation and decision-making in everyday life.

DOI [BibTex]

DOI [BibTex]


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Measuring How People Learn How to Plan

Jain, Y. R., Callaway, F., Lieder, F.

Proceedings 41st Annual Meeting of the Cognitive Science Society, pages: 1956-1962, CogSci2019, 41st Annual Meeting of the Cognitive Science Society, July 2019 (conference)

Abstract
The human mind has an unparalleled ability to acquire complex cognitive skills, discover new strategies, and refine its ways of thinking and decision-making; these phenomena are collectively known as cognitive plasticity. One important manifestation of cognitive plasticity is learning to make better–more far-sighted–decisions via planning. A serious obstacle to studying how people learn how to plan is that cognitive plasticity is even more difficult to observe than cognitive strategies are. To address this problem, we develop a computational microscope for measuring cognitive plasticity and validate it on simulated and empirical data. Our approach employs a process tracing paradigm recording signatures of human planning and how they change over time. We then invert a generative model of the recorded changes to infer the underlying cognitive plasticity. Our computational microscope measures cognitive plasticity significantly more accurately than simpler approaches, and it correctly detected the effect of an external manipulation known to promote cognitive plasticity. We illustrate how computational microscopes can be used to gain new insights into the time course of metacognitive learning and to test theories of cognitive development and hypotheses about the nature of cognitive plasticity. Future work will leverage our computational microscope to reverse-engineer the learning mechanisms enabling people to acquire complex cognitive skills such as planning and problem solving.

link (url) Project Page [BibTex]

link (url) Project Page [BibTex]


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Extending Rationality

Pothos, E. M., Busemeyer, J. R., Pleskac, T., Yearsley, J. M., Tenenbaum, J. B., Goodman, N. D., Tessler, M. H., Griffiths, T. L., Lieder, F., Hertwig, R., Pachur, T., Leuker, C., Shiffrin, R. M.

Proceedings of the 41st Annual Conference of the Cognitive Science Society, pages: 39-40, CogSci 2019, July 2019 (conference)

Proceedings of the 41st Annual Conference of the Cognitive Science Society [BibTex]

Proceedings of the 41st Annual Conference of the Cognitive Science Society [BibTex]


How should we incentivize learning? An optimal feedback mechanism for educational games and online courses
How should we incentivize learning? An optimal feedback mechanism for educational games and online courses

Xu, L., Wirzberger, M., Lieder, F.

41st Annual Meeting of the Cognitive Science Society, July 2019 (conference)

Abstract
Online courses offer much-needed opportunities for lifelong self-directed learning, but people rarely follow through on their noble intentions to complete them. To increase student retention educational software often uses game elements to motivate students to engage in and persist in learning activities. However, gamification only works when it is done properly, and there is currently no principled method that educational software could use to achieve this. We develop a principled feedback mechanism for encouraging good study choices and persistence in self-directed learning environments. Rather than giving performance feedback, our method rewards the learner's efforts with optimal brain points that convey the value of practice. To derive these optimal brain points, we applied the theory of optimal gamification to a mathematical model of skill acquisition. In contrast to hand-designed incentive structures, optimal brain points are constructed in such a way that the incentive system cannot be gamed. Evaluating our method in a behavioral experiment, we find that optimal brain points significantly increased the proportion of participants who instead of exploiting an inefficient skill they already knew-attempted to learn a difficult but more efficient skill, persisted through failure, and succeeded to master the new skill. Our method provides a principled approach to designing incentive structures and feedback mechanisms for educational games and online courses. We are optimistic that optimal brain points will prove useful for increasing student retention and helping people overcome the motivational obstacles that stand in the way of self-directed lifelong learning.

link (url) Project Page [BibTex]


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What’s in the Adaptive Toolbox and How Do People Choose From It? Rational Models of Strategy Selection in Risky Choice

Mohnert, F., Pachur, T., Lieder, F.

41st Annual Meeting of the Cognitive Science Society, July 2019 (conference)

Abstract
Although process data indicates that people often rely on various (often heuristic) strategies to choose between risky options, our models of heuristics cannot predict people's choices very accurately. To address this challenge, it has been proposed that people adaptively choose from a toolbox of simple strategies. But which strategies are contained in this toolbox? And how do people decide when to use which decision strategy? Here, we develop a model according to which each person selects decisions strategies rationally from their personal toolbox; our model allows one to infer which strategies are contained in the cognitive toolbox of an individual decision-maker and specifies when she will use which strategy. Using cross-validation on an empirical data set, we find that this rational model of strategy selection from a personal adaptive toolbox predicts people's choices better than any single strategy (even when it is allowed to vary across participants) and better than previously proposed toolbox models. Our model comparisons show that both inferring the toolbox and rational strategy selection are critical for accurately predicting people's risky choices. Furthermore, our model-based data analysis reveals considerable individual differences in the set of strategies people are equipped with and how they choose among them; these individual differences could partly explain why some people make better choices than others. These findings represent an important step towards a complete formalization of the notion that people select their cognitive strategies from a personal adaptive toolbox.

link (url) [BibTex]


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Measuring How People Learn How to Plan

Jain, Y. R., Callaway, F., Lieder, F.

pages: 357-361, RLDM 2019, July 2019 (conference)

Abstract
The human mind has an unparalleled ability to acquire complex cognitive skills, discover new strategies, and refine its ways of thinking and decision-making; these phenomena are collectively known as cognitive plasticity. One important manifestation of cognitive plasticity is learning to make better – more far-sighted – decisions via planning. A serious obstacle to studying how people learn how to plan is that cognitive plasticity is even more difficult to observe than cognitive strategies are. To address this problem, we develop a computational microscope for measuring cognitive plasticity and validate it on simulated and empirical data. Our approach employs a process tracing paradigm recording signatures of human planning and how they change over time. We then invert a generative model of the recorded changes to infer the underlying cognitive plasticity. Our computational microscope measures cognitive plasticity significantly more accurately than simpler approaches, and it correctly detected the effect of an external manipulation known to promote cognitive plasticity. We illustrate how computational microscopes can be used to gain new insights into the time course of metacognitive learning and to test theories of cognitive development and hypotheses about the nature of cognitive plasticity. Future work will leverage our computational microscope to reverse-engineer the learning mechanisms enabling people to acquire complex cognitive skills such as planning and problem solving.

link (url) [BibTex]

link (url) [BibTex]


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A Cognitive Tutor for Helping People Overcome Present Bias

Lieder, F., Callaway, F., Jain, Y. R., Krueger, P. M., Das, P., Gul, S., Griffiths, T. L.

RLDM 2019, July 2019, Falk Lieder and Frederick Callaway contributed equally to this publication. (conference)

Abstract
People's reliance on suboptimal heuristics gives rise to a plethora of cognitive biases in decision-making including the present bias, which denotes people's tendency to be overly swayed by an action's immediate costs/benefits rather than its more important long-term consequences. One approach to helping people overcome such biases is to teach them better decision strategies. But which strategies should we teach them? And how can we teach them effectively? Here, we leverage an automatic method for discovering rational heuristics and insights into how people acquire cognitive skills to develop an intelligent tutor that teaches people how to make better decisions. As a proof of concept, we derive the optimal planning strategy for a simple model of situations where people fall prey to the present bias. Our cognitive tutor teaches people this optimal planning strategy by giving them metacognitive feedback on how they plan in a 3-step sequential decision-making task. Our tutor's feedback is designed to maximally accelerate people's metacognitive reinforcement learning towards the optimal planning strategy. A series of four experiments confirmed that training with the cognitive tutor significantly reduced present bias and improved people's decision-making competency: Experiment 1 demonstrated that the cognitive tutor's feedback can help participants discover far-sighted planning strategies. Experiment 2 found that this training effect transfers to more complex environments. Experiment 3 found that these transfer effects are retained for at least 24 hours after the training. Finally, Experiment 4 found that practicing with the cognitive tutor can have additional benefits over being told the strategy in words. The results suggest that promoting metacognitive reinforcement learning with optimal feedback is a promising approach to improving the human mind.

DOI [BibTex]

DOI [BibTex]


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Introducing the Decision Advisor: A simple online tool that helps people overcome cognitive biases and experience less regret in real-life decisions

lawama, G., Greenberg, S., Moore, D., Lieder, F.

40th Annual Meeting of the Society for Judgement and Decision Making, June 2019 (conference)

Abstract
Cognitive biases shape many decisions people come to regret. To help people overcome these biases, Clear-erThinking.org developed a free online tool, called the Decision Advisor (https://programs.clearerthinking.org/decisionmaker.html). The Decision Advisor assists people in big real-life decisions by prompting them to generate more alternatives, guiding them to evaluate their alternatives according to principles of decision analysis, and educates them about pertinent biases while they are making their decision. In a within-subjects experiment, 99 participants reported significantly fewer biases and less regret for a decision supported by the Decision Advisor than for a previous unassisted decision.

DOI [BibTex]

DOI [BibTex]


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The Goal Characteristics (GC) questionannaire: A comprehensive measure for goals’ content, attainability, interestingness, and usefulness

Iwama, G., Wirzberger, M., Lieder, F.

40th Annual Meeting of the Society for Judgement and Decision Making, June 2019 (conference)

Abstract
Many studies have investigated how goal characteristics affect goal achievement. However, most of them considered only a small number of characteristics and the psychometric properties of their measures remains unclear. To overcome these limitations, we developed and validated a comprehensive questionnaire of goal characteristics with four subscales - measuring the goal’s content, attainability, interestingness, and usefulness respectively. 590 participants completed the questionnaire online. A confirmatory factor analysis supported the four subscales and their structure. The GC questionnaire (https://osf.io/qfhup) can be easily applied to investigate goal setting, pursuit and adjustment in a wide range of contexts.

DOI [BibTex]


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Resource-rational analysis: Understanding human cognition as the optimal use of limited computational resources

Lieder, F., Griffiths, T. L.

Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 43, E1, Febuary 2019 (article)

Abstract
Modeling human cognition is challenging because there are infinitely many mechanisms that can generate any given observation. Some researchers address this by constraining the hypothesis space through assumptions about what the human mind can and cannot do, while others constrain it through principles of rationality and adaptation. Recent work in economics, psychology, neuroscience, and linguistics has begun to integrate both approaches by augmenting rational models with cognitive constraints, incorporating rational principles into cognitive architectures, and applying optimality principles to understanding neural representations. We identify the rational use of limited resources as a unifying principle underlying these diverse approaches, expressing it in a new cognitive modeling paradigm called resource-rational analysis. The integration of rational principles with realistic cognitive constraints makes resource-rational analysis a promising framework for reverse-engineering cognitive mechanisms and representations. It has already shed new light on the debate about human rationality and can be leveraged to revisit classic questions of cognitive psychology within a principled computational framework. We demonstrate that resource-rational models can reconcile the mind's most impressive cognitive skills with people's ostensive irrationality. Resource-rational analysis also provides a new way to connect psychological theory more deeply with artificial intelligence, economics, neuroscience, and linguistics.

DOI [BibTex]


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Remediating Cognitive Decline with Cognitive Tutors

Das, P., Callaway, F., Griffiths, T. L., Lieder, F.

RLDM 2019, 2019 (conference)

Abstract
As people age, their cognitive abilities tend to deteriorate, including their ability to make complex plans. To remediate this cognitive decline, many commercial brain training programs target basic cognitive capacities, such as working memory. We have recently developed an alternative approach: intelligent tutors that teach people cognitive strategies for making the best possible use of their limited cognitive resources. Here, we apply this approach to improve older adults' planning skills. In a process-tracing experiment we found that the decline in planning performance may be partly because older adults use less effective planning strategies. We also found that, with practice, both older and younger adults learned more effective planning strategies from experience. But despite these gains there was still room for improvement-especially for older people. In a second experiment, we let older and younger adults train their planning skills with an intelligent cognitive tutor that teaches optimal planning strategies via metacognitive feedback. We found that practicing planning with this intelligent tutor allowed older adults to catch up to their younger counterparts. These findings suggest that intelligent tutors that teach clever cognitive strategies can help aging decision-makers stay sharp.

DOI [BibTex]

DOI [BibTex]


A Rational Reinterpretation of Dual Process Theories
A Rational Reinterpretation of Dual Process Theories

Milli, S., Lieder, F., Griffiths, T. L.

2019 (article)

Abstract
Highly influential "dual-process" accounts of human cognition postulate the coexistence of a slow accurate system with a fast error-prone system. But why would there be just two systems rather than, say, one or 93? Here, we argue that a dual-process architecture might be neither arbitrary nor irrational, but might instead reflect a rational tradeoff between the cognitive flexibility afforded by multiple systems and the time and effort required to choose between them. We investigate what the optimal set and number of cognitive systems would be depending on the structure of the environment. We find that the optimal number of systems depends on the variability of the environment and the difficulty of deciding when which system should be used. Furthermore, when having two systems is optimal, then the first system is fast but error-prone and the second system is slow but accurate. Our findings thereby provide a rational reinterpretation of dual-process theories.

DOI [BibTex]

DOI [BibTex]

2018


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Discovering and Teaching Optimal Planning Strategies

Lieder, F., Callaway, F., Krueger, P. M., Das, P., Griffiths, T. L., Gul, S.

In The 14th biannual conference of the German Society for Cognitive Science, GK, September 2018, Falk Lieder and Frederick Callaway contributed equally to this publication. (inproceedings)

Abstract
How should we think and decide, and how can we learn to make better decisions? To address these questions we formalize the discovery of cognitive strategies as a metacognitive reinforcement learning problem. This formulation leads to a computational method for deriving optimal cognitive strategies and a feedback mechanism for accelerating the process by which people learn how to make better decisions. As a proof of concept, we apply our approach to develop an intelligent system that teaches people optimal planning stratgies. Our training program combines a novel process-tracing paradigm that makes peoples latent planning strategies observable with an intelligent system that gives people feedback on how their planning strategy could be improved. The pedagogy of our intelligent tutor is based on the theory that people discover their cognitive strategies through metacognitive reinforcement learning. Concretely, the tutor’s feedback is designed to maximally accelerate people’s metacognitive reinforcement learning towards the optimal cognitive strategy. A series of four experiments confirmed that training with the cognitive tutor significantly improved people’s decision-making competency: Experiment 1 demonstrated that the cognitive tutor’s feedback accelerates participants’ metacognitive learning. Experiment 2 found that this training effect transfers to more difficult planning problems in more complex environments. Experiment 3 found that these transfer effects are retained for at least 24 hours after the training. Finally, Experiment 4 found that practicing with the cognitive tutor conveys additional benefits above and beyond verbal description of the optimal planning strategy. The results suggest that promoting metacognitive reinforcement learning with optimal feedback is a promising approach to improving the human mind.

link (url) Project Page [BibTex]

2018

link (url) Project Page [BibTex]


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Discovering Rational Heuristics for Risky Choice

Gul, S., Krueger, P. M., Callaway, F., Griffiths, T. L., Lieder, F.

The 14th biannual conference of the German Society for Cognitive Science, GK, The 14th biannual conference of the German Society for Cognitive Science, GK, September 2018 (conference)

Abstract
How should we think and decide to make the best possible use of our precious time and limited cognitive resources? And how do people’s cognitive strategies compare to this ideal? We study these questions in the domain of multi-alternative risky choice using the methodology of resource-rational analysis. To answer the first question, we leverage a new meta-level reinforcement learning algorithm to derive optimal heuristics for four different risky choice environments. We find that our method rediscovers two fast-and-frugal heuristics that people are known to use, namely Take-The-Best and choosing randomly, as resource-rational strategies for specific environments. Our method also discovered a novel heuristic that combines elements of Take-The-Best and Satisficing. To answer the second question, we use the Mouselab paradigm to measure how people’s decision strategies compare to the predictions of our resource-rational analysis. We found that our resource-rational analysis correctly predicted which strategies people use and under which conditions they use them. While people generally tend to make rational use of their limited resources overall, their strategy choices do not always fully exploit the structure of each decision problem. Overall, people’s decision operations were about 88% as resource-rational as they could possibly be. A formal model comparison confirmed that our resource-rational model explained people’s decision strategies significantly better than the Directed Cognition model of Gabaix et al. (2006). Our study is a proof-of-concept that optimal cognitive strategies can be automatically derived from the principle of resource-rationality. Our results suggest that resource-rational analysis is a promising approach for uncovering people’s cognitive strategies and revisiting the debate about human rationality with a more realistic normative standard.

link (url) Project Page [BibTex]

link (url) Project Page [BibTex]


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Learning to Select Computations

Callaway, F., Gul, S., Krueger, P. M., Griffiths, T. L., Lieder, F.

In Uncertainty in Artificial Intelligence: Proceedings of the Thirty-Fourth Conference, August 2018, Frederick Callaway and Sayan Gul and Falk Lieder contributed equally to this publication. (inproceedings)

Abstract
The efficient use of limited computational resources is an essential ingredient of intelligence. Selecting computations optimally according to rational metareasoning would achieve this, but this is computationally intractable. Inspired by psychology and neuroscience, we propose the first concrete and domain-general learning algorithm for approximating the optimal selection of computations: Bayesian metalevel policy search (BMPS). We derive this general, sample-efficient search algorithm for a computation-selecting metalevel policy based on the insight that the value of information lies between the myopic value of information and the value of perfect information. We evaluate BMPS on three increasingly difficult metareasoning problems: when to terminate computation, how to allocate computation between competing options, and planning. Across all three domains, BMPS achieved near-optimal performance and compared favorably to previously proposed metareasoning heuristics. Finally, we demonstrate the practical utility of BMPS in an emergency management scenario, even accounting for the overhead of metareasoning.

link (url) Project Page [BibTex]

link (url) Project Page [BibTex]


A resource-rational analysis of human planning
A resource-rational analysis of human planning

Callaway, F., Lieder, F., Das, P., Gul, S., Krueger, P. M., Griffiths, T. L.

In Proceedings of the 40th Annual Conference of the Cognitive Science Society, May 2018, Frederick Callaway and Falk Lieder contributed equally to this publication. (inproceedings)

Abstract
People's cognitive strategies are jointly shaped by function and computational constraints. Resource-rational analysis leverages these constraints to derive rational models of people's cognitive strategies from the assumption that people make rational use of limited cognitive resources. We present a resource-rational analysis of planning and evaluate its predictions in a newly developed process tracing paradigm. In Experiment 1, we find that a resource-rational planning strategy predicts the process by which people plan more accurately than previous models of planning. Furthermore, in Experiment 2, we find that it also captures how people's planning strategies adapt to the structure of the environment. In addition, our approach allows us to quantify for the first time how close people's planning strategies are to being resource-rational and to characterize in which ways they conform to and deviate from optimal planning.

DOI [BibTex]

DOI [BibTex]


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Rational metareasoning and the plasticity of cognitive control

Lieder, F., Shenhav, A., Musslick, S., Griffiths, T. L.

PLOS Computational Biology, 14(4):e1006043, Public Library of Science, April 2018 (article)

Abstract
The human brain has the impressive capacity to adapt how it processes information to high-level goals. While it is known that these cognitive control skills are malleable and can be improved through training, the underlying plasticity mechanisms are not well understood. Here, we develop and evaluate a model of how people learn when to exert cognitive control, which controlled process to use, and how much effort to exert. We derive this model from a general theory according to which the function of cognitive control is to select and configure neural pathways so as to make optimal use of finite time and limited computational resources. The central idea of our Learned Value of Control model is that people use reinforcement learning to predict the value of candidate control signals of different types and intensities based on stimulus features. This model correctly predicts the learning and transfer effects underlying the adaptive control-demanding behavior observed in an experiment on visual attention and four experiments on interference control in Stroop and Flanker paradigms. Moreover, our model explained these findings significantly better than an associative learning model and a Win-Stay Lose-Shift model. Our findings elucidate how learning and experience might shape people’s ability and propensity to adaptively control their minds and behavior. We conclude by predicting under which circumstances these learning mechanisms might lead to self-control failure.

Rational metareasoning and the plasticity of cognitive control DOI Project Page Project Page [BibTex]

Rational metareasoning and the plasticity of cognitive control DOI Project Page Project Page [BibTex]


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Over-Representation of Extreme Events in Decision Making Reflects Rational Use of Cognitive Resources

Lieder, F., Griffiths, T. L., Hsu, M.

Psychological Review, 125(1):1-32, January 2018 (article)

Abstract
People’s decisions and judgments are disproportionately swayed by improbable but extreme eventualities, such as terrorism, that come to mind easily. This article explores whether such availability biases can be reconciled with rational information processing by taking into account the fact that decision-makers value their time and have limited cognitive resources. Our analysis suggests that to make optimal use of their finite time decision-makers should over-represent the most important potential consequences relative to less important, put potentially more probable, outcomes. To evaluate this account we derive and test a model we call utility-weighted sampling. Utility-weighted sampling estimates the expected utility of potential actions by simulating their outcomes. Critically, outcomes with more extreme utilities have a higher probability of being simulated. We demonstrate that this model can explain not only people’s availability bias in judging the frequency of extreme events but also a wide range of cognitive biases in decisions from experience, decisions from description, and memory recall.

DOI [BibTex]

DOI [BibTex]


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Beyond Bounded Rationality: Reverse-Engineering and Enhancing Human Intelligence

(Glushko Prize 2020)

Lieder, F.

University of California, Berkeley, 2018 (phdthesis)

Abstract
Bad decisions can have devastating consequences: There is a vast body of literature claiming that human judgment and decision-making are riddled with numerous systematic violations of the rules of logic, probability theory, and expected utility theory. The discovery of these cognitive biases in the 1970s (Tversky & Kahneman, 1974) made people question the concept of Homo sapiens as the rational animal, profoundly shaking the foundations of economics and rational models in the cognitive, neural, and social sciences. Four decades later, these disciplines still lack a rigorous theoretical foundation for explaining and remedying people’s cognitive biases. To solve this problem, my dissertation offers a mathematically precise theory of bounded rationality and demonstrates how it can be leveraged to elucidate the cognitive mechanisms of judgment and decision-making (Part 1) and to help people make better decisions (Part 2).

Précis of Beyond Bounded Rationality: Reverse-Engineering and Enhancing Human Intelligence DOI [BibTex]


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The Computational Challenges of Pursuing Multiple Goals: Network Structure of Goal Systems Predicts Human Performance

Reichman, D., Lieder, F., Bourgin, D. D., Talmon, N., Griffiths, T. L.

PsyArXiv, 2018 (article)

Abstract
Extant psychological theories attribute people’s failure to achieve their goals primarily to failures of self-control, insufficient motivation, or lacking skills. We develop a complementary theory specifying conditions under which the computational complexity of making the right decisions becomes prohibitive of goal achievement regardless of skill or motivation. We support our theory by predicting human performance from factors determining the computational complexity of selecting the optimal set of means for goal achievement. Following previous theories of goal pursuit, we express the relationship between goals and means as a bipartite graph where edges between means and goals indicate which means can be used to achieve which goals. This allows us to map two computational challenges that arise in goal achievement onto two classic combinatorial optimization problems: Set Cover and Maximum Coverage. While these problems are believed to be computationally intractable on general networks, their solution can be nevertheless efficiently approximated when the structure of the network resembles a tree. Thus, our initial prediction was that people should perform better with goal systems that are more tree-like. In addition, our theory predicted that people’s performance at selecting means should be a U-shaped function of the average number of goals each means is relevant to and the average number of means through which each goal could be accomplished. Here we report on six behavioral experiments which confirmed these predictions. Our results suggest that combinatorial parameters that are instrumental to algorithm design can also be useful for understanding when and why people struggle to pursue their goals effectively.

DOI [BibTex]