Retrieval-constrained valuation: Toward prediction of open-ended decisions

Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2021 May 18;118(20):e2022685118. doi: 10.1073/pnas.2022685118.


Real-world decisions are often open ended, with goals, choice options, or evaluation criteria conceived by decision-makers themselves. Critically, the quality of decisions may heavily rely on the generation of options, as failure to generate promising options limits, or even eliminates, the opportunity for choosing them. This core aspect of problem structuring, however, is largely absent from classical models of decision-making, thereby restricting their predictive scope. Here, we take a step toward addressing this issue by developing a neurally inspired cognitive model of a class of ill-structured decisions in which choice options must be self-generated. Specifically, using a model in which semantic memory retrieval is assumed to constrain the set of options available during valuation, we generate highly accurate out-of-sample predictions of choices across multiple categories of goods. Our model significantly and substantially outperforms models that only account for valuation or retrieval in isolation or those that make alternative mechanistic assumptions regarding their interaction. Furthermore, using neuroimaging, we confirm our core assumption regarding the engagement of, and interaction between, semantic memory retrieval and valuation processes. Together, these results provide a neurally grounded and mechanistic account of decisions with self-generated options, representing a step toward unraveling cognitive mechanisms underlying adaptive decision-making in the real world.

Keywords: memory retrieval; open-ended decisions; option generation; valuation.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Brain / anatomy & histology
  • Brain / physiology*
  • Brain Mapping
  • Choice Behavior / physiology*
  • Cognition / physiology*
  • Decision Making / physiology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Models, Neurological*
  • Neuroimaging
  • Semantic Web