Goal-directed decision making as probabilistic inference: a computational framework and potential neural correlates.
Recent work has given rise to the view that reward-based decision making is governed by two key controllers: a habit system, which stores stimulus-response associations shaped by past reward, and a goal-oriented system that selects actions based on their anticipated outcomes. The current literature provides a rich body of computational theory addressing habit formation, centering on temporal-difference learning mechanisms. Less progress has been made toward formalizing the processes involved in goal-directed decision making. We draw on recent work in cognitive neuroscience, animal conditioning, cognitive and developmental psychology, and machine learning to outline a new theory of goal-directed decision making. Our basic proposal is that the brain, within an identifiable network of cortical and subcortical structures, implements a probabilistic generative model of reward, and that goal-directed decision making is effected through Bayesian inversion of this model. We present a set of simulations implementing the account, which address benchmark behavioral and neuroscientific findings, and give rise to a set of testable predictions. We also discuss the relationship between the proposed framework and other models of decision making, including recent models of perceptual choice, to which our theory bears a direct connection.