Evidence for surprise minimization over value maximization in choice behavior

Philipp Schwartenbeck, Thomas H. B. FitzGerald, Christoph Mathys, Ray Dolan, Martin Kronbichler, Karl Friston

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Classical economic models are predicated on the idea that the ultimate aim of choice is to maximize utility or reward. In contrast, an alternative perspective highlights the fact that adaptive behavior requires agents' to model their environment and minimize surprise about the states they frequent. We propose that choice behavior can be more accurately accounted for by surprise minimization compared to reward or utility maximization alone. Minimizing surprise makes a prediction at variance with expected utility models; namely, that in addition to attaining valuable states, agents attempt to maximize the entropy over outcomes and thus 'keep their options open'. We tested this prediction using a simple binary choice paradigm and show that human decision-making is better explained by surprise minimization compared to utility maximization. Furthermore, we replicated this entropy-seeking behavior in a control task with no explicit utilities. These findings highlight a limitation of purely economic motivations in explaining choice behavior and instead emphasize the importance of belief-based motivations.

Original languageEnglish
Article number16575
JournalScientific Reports
Publication statusPublished - 2015

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