Ten simple rules for the computational modeling of behavioral data

Elife. 2019 Nov 26;8:e49547. doi: 10.7554/eLife.49547.


Computational modeling of behavior has revolutionized psychology and neuroscience. By fitting models to experimental data we can probe the algorithms underlying behavior, find neural correlates of computational variables and better understand the effects of drugs, illness and interventions. But with great power comes great responsibility. Here, we offer ten simple rules to ensure that computational modeling is used with care and yields meaningful insights. In particular, we present a beginner-friendly, pragmatic and details-oriented introduction on how to relate models to data. What, exactly, can a model tell us about the mind? To answer this, we apply our rules to the simplest modeling techniques most accessible to beginning modelers and illustrate them with examples and code available online. However, most rules apply to more advanced techniques. Our hope is that by following our guidelines, researchers will avoid many pitfalls and unleash the power of computational modeling on their own data.

Keywords: computational modeling; model fitting; neuroscience; reproducibility; validation.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Algorithms
  • Behavior*
  • Computer Simulation / standards*
  • Humans
  • Models, Biological
  • Neurosciences / methods