Model-based decision making and model-free learning

Curr Biol. 2020 Aug 3;30(15):R860-R865. doi: 10.1016/j.cub.2020.06.051.


Free will is anything but free. With it comes the onus of choice: not only what to do, but which inner voice to listen to - our 'automatic' response system, which some consider 'impulsive' or 'irrational', or our supposedly more rational deliberative one. Rather than a devil and angel sitting on our shoulders, research suggests that we have two decision-making systems residing in the brain, in our basal ganglia. Neither system is the devil and neither is irrational. They both have our best interests at heart and aim to suggest the best course of action calculated through rational algorithms. However, the algorithms they use are qualitatively different and do not always agree on which action is optimal. The rivalry between habitual, fast action and deliberative, purposeful action is an ongoing one.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Behavior / physiology*
  • Decision Making*
  • Humans
  • Learning / physiology*
  • Models, Psychological*
  • Rats
  • Reinforcement, Psychology