There are two sharply debated views on how humans make decisions under uncertainty. Bayesian decision theory posits that humans optimize their behavior by establishing and integrating internal models of past sensory experiences (priors) and decision outcomes (cost functions). An alternative model-free hypothesis posits that decisions are optimized through trial and error without explicit internal models for priors and cost functions. To distinguish between these possibilities, we introduce a novel paradigm that probes sensitivity of humans to transitions between prior-cost pairs that demand the same optimal policy (metamers) but distinct internal models. We demonstrate the utility of our approach in two experiments that were classically explained by model-based Bayesian theory. Our approach validates the model-based strategy in an interval timing task but not in a visuomotor rotation task. More generally, our work provides a domain-general approach for testing the circumstances under which humans implement model-based Bayesian computations.
bioRxiv Subject Collection: Neuroscience