Letter

Nature 461, 263-266 (10 September 2009) | doi:10.1038/nature08275; Received 25 April 2009; Accepted 10 July 2009; Published online 19 August 2009

Changes of mind in decision-making

Arbora Resulaj1,2, Roozbeh Kiani3, Daniel M. Wolpert1 & Michael N. Shadlen3

  1. Computational and Biological Learning Laboratory, Department of Engineering, University of Cambridge, Trumpington Street, Cambridge CB2 1PZ, UK
  2. Howard Hughes Medical Institute, Janelia Farm Research Campus, 19700 Helix Drive, Ashburn, Virginia 20147, USA
  3. Howard Hughes Medical Institute, National Primate Research Center and Department of Physiology and Biophysics, University of Washington, Seattle, Washington 98195, USA

Correspondence to: Michael N. Shadlen3 Correspondence and requests for materials should be addressed to M.N.S. (Email: shadlen@uw.edu).

A decision is a commitment to a proposition or plan of action based on evidence and the expected costs and benefits associated with the outcome. Progress in a variety of fields has led to a quantitative understanding of the mechanisms that evaluate evidence and reach a decision1, 2, 3. Several formalisms propose that a representation of noisy evidence is evaluated against a criterion to produce a decision4, 5, 6, 7, 8. Without additional evidence, however, these formalisms fail to explain why a decision-maker would change their mind. Here we extend a model, developed to account for both the timing and the accuracy of the initial decision9, to explain subsequent changes of mind. Subjects made decisions about a noisy visual stimulus, which they indicated by moving a handle. Although they received no additional information after initiating their movement, their hand trajectories betrayed a change of mind in some trials. We propose that noisy evidence is accumulated over time until it reaches a criterion level, or bound, which determines the initial decision, and that the brain exploits information that is in the processing pipeline when the initial decision is made to subsequently either reverse or reaffirm the initial decision. The model explains both the frequency of changes of mind as well as their dependence on both task difficulty and whether the initial decision was accurate or erroneous. The theoretical and experimental findings advance the understanding of decision-making to the highly flexible and cognitive acts of vacillation and self-correction.

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