Choice history effects in mice and humans improve reward harvesting efficiency

Samuel López Yépez Junior, Juliane Martin, Oliver Hulme, Duda Kvitsiani*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journal/Conference contribution in journal/Contribution to newspaperJournal articleResearchpeer-review


Choice history effects describe how future choices depend on the history of past choices. In experimental tasks this is typically framed as a bias because it often diminishes the experienced reward rates. However, in natural habitats, choices made in the past constrain choices that can be made in the future. For foraging animals, the probability of earning a reward in a given patch depends on the degree to which the animals have exploited the patch in the past. One problem with many experimental tasks that show choice history effects is that such tasks artificially decouple choice history from its consequences on reward availability over time. To circumvent this, we use a variable interval (VI) reward schedule that reinstates a more natural contingency between past choices and future reward availability. By examining the behavior of optimal agents in the VI task we discover that choice history effects observed in animals serve to maximize reward harvesting efficiency. We further distil the function of choice history effects by manipulating first- and second-order statistics of the environment. We find that choice history effects primarily reflect the growth rate of the reward probability of the unchosen option, whereas reward history effects primarily reflect environmental volatility. Based on observed choice history effects in animals, we develop a reinforcement learning model that explicitly incorporates choice history over multiple time scales into the decision process, and we assess its predictive adequacy in accounting for the associated behavior. We show that this new variant, known as the double trace model, has a higher performance in predicting choice data, and shows near optimal reward harvesting efficiency in simulated environments. These results suggests that choice history effects may be adaptive for natural contingencies between consumption and reward availability. This concept lends credence to a normative account of choice history effects that extends beyond its description as a bias.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere1009452
JournalPLOS Computational Biology
Number of pages33
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2021


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