Retrospective revaluation in sequential decision making: a tale of two systems

J Exp Psychol Gen. 2014 Feb;143(1):182-94. doi: 10.1037/a0030844. Epub 2012 Dec 10.


Recent computational theories of decision making in humans and animals have portrayed 2 systems locked in a battle for control of behavior. One system--variously termed model-free or habitual--favors actions that have previously led to reward, whereas a second--called the model-based or goal-directed system--favors actions that causally lead to reward according to the agent's internal model of the environment. Some evidence suggests that control can be shifted between these systems using neural or behavioral manipulations, but other evidence suggests that the systems are more intertwined than a competitive account would imply. In 4 behavioral experiments, using a retrospective revaluation design and a cognitive load manipulation, we show that human decisions are more consistent with a cooperative architecture in which the model-free system controls behavior, whereas the model-based system trains the model-free system by replaying and simulating experience.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Decision Making*
  • Humans
  • Models, Psychological*
  • Neuropsychological Tests
  • Reinforcement, Psychology*