Patterns of choice adaptation in dynamic risky environments

Mem Cognit. 2022 May;50(4):864-881. doi: 10.3758/s13421-021-01244-4. Epub 2022 Mar 8.


An important aspect of making good decisions is the ability to adapt to changes in the values of available choice options, and research suggests that we are poor at changing behavior and adapting our choices successfully. The current paper contributes to clarifying the role of memory on learning and successful adaptation to changing decision environments. We test two aspects of changing decision environments: the direction of change and the type of feedback. The direction of change refers to how options become more or less rewarding compared to other options, over time. Feedback refers to whether full or partial information about decision outcomes is received. Results from behavioral experiments revealed a robust effect of the direction of change: risk that becomes more rewarding over time is harder to detect than risk that becomes less rewarding over time; even with full feedback. We rely on three distinct computational models to interpret the role of memory on learning and adaptation. The distributions of individual model parameters were analyzed in relation to participants' ability to successfully adapt to the changing conditions of the various decision environments. Consistent across the three models and two distinct data sets, results revealed the importance of recency as an individual memory component for choice adaptation. Individuals relying more on recent experiences were more successful at adapting to change, regardless of its direction. We explain the value and limitations of these findings as well as opportunities for future research.

Keywords: Change detection and adaptation; Dynamic decision making; Instance-based learning; Memory processes; Reinforcement learning; Risky choice.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Choice Behavior*
  • Decision Making*
  • Humans
  • Learning
  • Reward