Examining the Role of Cognitive Control Costs in the Balance of Directed and Random Exploration Strategies in Human Decision Making

Sato, Natsuko [Browse]
Senior thesis


Daw, Nathaniel D. [Browse]
Princeton Neuroscience Institute [Browse]
Princeton University. Program in Cognitive Science [Browse]
Class year
Summary note
Cognitive control is a set of cognitive functions that guide behavior in service of a goal. Though decisions about goals and actions benefit from the use of cognitive control, cognitive control is limited and therefore must be allocated accordingly. Research suggests that all else equal, people prefer to avoid exerting cognitive control, but there are individual differences in the extent of these preferences. These preferences about cognitive control reflect cost-benefit analysis in the brain, which may have consequences on specific decision-making strategies that people implement. In our present study, we first attempted to quantify cost of control through a novel variant of the patch-foraging task originally developed by Constantino & Daw (2015). In our version, we added a cognitive load in order to examine the extent to which cognitive demand discounts reward. Empirical results revealed that the main Stroop manipulation did not reliably shift behavior across blocks in the current design, and the effect was trending in the opposite direction as our hypothesis. This inconsistent effect of Stroop incongruency suggests that either our present cognitive demand manipulation was not costly enough for our subjects, or that there was an additional factor that shifted the baseline effect of incongruency upwards, in which case individual differences around the mean may still be meaningful. To test this second possibility, we tested whether the variation in the incongruency effect had any relationship with the horizons task developed by Wilson et al. (2014), which quantifies individuals’ use of more (directed) or less (random) deliberative strategies. We hypothesized that individuals with lower costs of cognitive control will employ more deliberative decision strategies than those with higher costs. Although we found our results to be trending in the same direction as our predictions, the effects were insignificant. These two results taken together suggest the current foraging design was unable to index cognitive control, and thus it is still unknown whether cost of control, when effectively measured, predicts the balance of exploration strategies.

Supplementary Information