Hierarchical Active Inference: A Theory of Motivated Control

Trends Cogn Sci. 2018 Apr;22(4):294-306. doi: 10.1016/j.tics.2018.01.009. Epub 2018 Feb 20.


Motivated control refers to the coordination of behaviour to achieve affectively valenced outcomes or goals. The study of motivated control traditionally assumes a distinction between control and motivational processes, which map to distinct (dorsolateral versus ventromedial) brain systems. However, the respective roles and interactions between these processes remain controversial. We offer a novel perspective that casts control and motivational processes as complementary aspects - goal propagation and prioritization, respectively - of active inference and hierarchical goal processing under deep generative models. We propose that the control hierarchy propagates prior preferences or goals, but their precision is informed by the motivational context, inferred at different levels of the motivational hierarchy. The ensuing integration of control and motivational processes underwrites action and policy selection and, ultimately, motivated behaviour, by enabling deep inference to prioritize goals in a context-sensitive way.

Keywords: active inference; cognitive control; executive function; goal-directed decision making; hierarchical inference; motivated control.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Executive Function / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Motivation / physiology*
  • Perception / physiology*
  • Prefrontal Cortex / physiology*
  • Psychological Theory*
  • Thinking / physiology*