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Generalization and search in risky environments

By Eric Schulz, Charley M. Wu, Quentin J M Huys, Andreas Krause, Maarten Speekenbrink

Posted 30 Nov 2017
bioRxiv DOI: 10.1101/227322 (published DOI: 10.1111/cogs.12695)

How do people pursue rewards in risky environments, where some outcomes should be avoided at all costs? We investigate participants' search for spatially correlated rewards in scenarios where one must avoid sampling rewards below a given threshold. This requires participants to not only balance exploration and exploitation, but also to reason about how to avoid potentially risky areas of the search space. Within risky versions of the spatially correlated multi-armed bandit task, we show that participants' behavior is aligned well with a Gaussian process function learning algorithm, which chooses points based on a safe optimization routine. Moreover, using leave-one-block-out cross-validation, we find that participants adapt their sampling behavior to the riskiness of the task, although the underlying function learning mechanism remains relatively unchanged. These results show that participants can adapt their search behavior to the adversity of the environment and enrich our understanding of adaptive behavior in the face of risk and uncertainty.

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