The value of foresight: how prospection affects decision-making

Traditional theories of decision-making assume that utilities are based on the intrinsic value of outcomes; in turn, these values depend on associations between expected outcomes and the current motivational state of the decision-maker. This view disregards the fact that humans (and possibly other animals) have prospection abilities, which permit anticipating future mental processes and motivational and emotional states. For instance, we can evaluate future outcomes in light of the motivational state we expect to have when the outcome is collected, not (only) when we make a decision. Consequently, we can plan for the future and choose to store food to be consumed when we expect to be hungry, not immediately. Furthermore, similarly to any expected outcome, we can assign a value to our anticipated mental processes and emotions. It has been reported that (in some circumstances) human subjects prefer to receive an unavoidable punishment immediately, probably because they are anticipating the dread associated with the time spent waiting for the punishment. This article offers a formal framework to guide neuroeconomic research on how prospection affects decision-making. The model has two characteristics. First, it uses model-based Bayesian inference to describe anticipation of cognitive and motivational processes. Second, the utility-maximization process considers these anticipations in two ways: to evaluate outcomes (e.g., the pleasure of eating a pie is evaluated differently at the beginning of a dinner, when one is hungry, and at the end of the dinner, when one is satiated), and as outcomes having a value themselves (e.g., the case of dread as a cost of waiting for punishment). By explicitly accounting for the relationship between prospection and value, our model provides a framework to reconcile the utility-maximization approach with psychological phenomena such as planning for the future and dread.

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Giovanni Pezzulo
Francesco Rigoli
Frontiers Research Foundation,, Lausanne , Svizzera
Frontiers in neuroscience (Online) 5 (2011): 1–15. doi:10.3389/fnins.2011.00079
info:cnr-pdr/source/autori:Giovanni Pezzulo, Francesco Rigoli/titolo:The value of foresight: how prospection affects decision-making/doi:10.3389/fnins.2011.00079/rivista:Frontiers in neuroscience (Online)/anno:2011/pagina_da:1/pagina_a:15/intervallo_pagin
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