Balance between breadth and depth in human many-alternative decisions

  1. Alice Vidal  Is a corresponding author
  2. Salvador Soto-Faraco
  3. Ruben Moreno Bote
  1. Universitat Pompeu Fabra, Spain

Abstract

Many everyday life decisions require allocating finite resources, such as attention or time, to examine multiple available options, like choosing an online food supplier. In these cases, our search resources can be spread across many options (breadth) or focused on a few of them (depth). Whilst theoretical work has described how finite resources should be allocated to maximise utility in these problems, evidence about how humans balance breadth and depth is lacking. We introduce a novel experimental paradigm where humans make a many-alternative decision under finite resources. In an imaginary scenario, participants allocate a finite budget to sample amongst multiple apricot suppliers in order to estimate the quality of their fruits, and ultimately choose the best one. We found that at low budget capacity participants sample as many suppliers as possible, and thus prefer breadth, whereas at high capacities participants sample just a few chosen alternatives in depth, and intentionally ignore the rest. The number of alternatives sampled increases with capacity following a power law with an exponent close to 0.75. In richer environments, where good outcomes are more likely, humans further favour depth. Participants deviate from optimality and tend to allocate capacity amongst the selected alternatives more homogeneously than it would be optimal, but the impact on the outcome is small. Overall, our results undercover a rich phenomenology of close-to-optimal behaviour and biases in complex choices.

Data availability

The data and analysis scripts have been deposited in an OSF repository available herehttps://osf.io/kdbqs/?view_only=386d3bde49394e6bb88d247adc52b9ad

The following data sets were generated

Article and author information

Author details

  1. Alice Vidal

    Universitat Pompeu Fabra, Barcelona, Spain
    For correspondence
    alice.vidal@upf.edu
    Competing interests
    The authors declare that no competing interests exist.
    ORCID icon "This ORCID iD identifies the author of this article:" 0000-0003-4477-510X
  2. Salvador Soto-Faraco

    Universitat Pompeu Fabra, Barcelona, Spain
    Competing interests
    The authors declare that no competing interests exist.
  3. Ruben Moreno Bote

    Universitat Pompeu Fabra, Barcelona, Spain
    Competing interests
    The authors declare that no competing interests exist.

Funding

Howard Hughes Medical Institute (55008742)

  • Ruben Moreno Bote

Institució Catalana de Recerca i Estudis Avançats (2016)

  • Ruben Moreno Bote

Ministerio de Ciencia e Innovación (PID2019-108531GB-I00 AEI/FEDER)

  • Salvador Soto-Faraco

European Regional Development Fund (Operative Programme for Catalunya 2014-2020)

  • Salvador Soto-Faraco

Agència de Gestió d'Ajuts Universitaris i de Recerca (2019FI_B 00302)

  • Alice Vidal

The funders had no role in study design, data collection and interpretation, or the decision to submit the work for publication.

Ethics

Human subjects: Before starting the experiment, participants had to give their informed consent. This study was part of the project 'IMC: INTEGRACIÓN MULTISENSORIAL Y CONFLICTO' (PID2019-108531GB-I00) for which an ethical approval was obtained.

Reviewing Editor

  1. Valentin Wyart, École normale supérieure, PSL University, INSERM, France

Publication history

  1. Received: January 11, 2022
  2. Accepted: September 12, 2022
  3. Accepted Manuscript published: September 15, 2022 (version 1)

Copyright

© 2022, Vidal et al.

This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License permitting unrestricted use and redistribution provided that the original author and source are credited.

Metrics

  • 152
    Page views
  • 48
    Downloads
  • 0
    Citations

Article citation count generated by polling the highest count across the following sources: Crossref, PubMed Central, Scopus.

Download links

A two-part list of links to download the article, or parts of the article, in various formats.

Downloads (link to download the article as PDF)

Open citations (links to open the citations from this article in various online reference manager services)

Cite this article (links to download the citations from this article in formats compatible with various reference manager tools)

  1. Alice Vidal
  2. Salvador Soto-Faraco
  3. Ruben Moreno Bote
(2022)
Balance between breadth and depth in human many-alternative decisions
eLife 11:e76985.
https://doi.org/10.7554/eLife.76985

Further reading

    1. Neuroscience
    Alison R Weiss, William A Liguore ... Jodi L McBride
    Research Article

    We created a new nonhuman primate model of the genetic neurodegenerative disorder Huntington’s disease (HD) by injecting a mixture of recombinant adeno-associated viral vectors, serotypes AAV2 and AAV2.retro, each expressing a fragment of human mutant HTT (mHTT) into the caudate and putamen of adult rhesus macaques. This modeling strategy results in expression of mutant huntingtin protein (mHTT) and aggregate formation in the injected brain regions, as well as dozens of other cortical and subcortical brain regions affected in human HD patients. We queried the disruption of cortico-basal ganglia circuitry for 30 months post-surgery using a variety of behavioral and imaging readouts. Compared to controls, mHTT-treated macaques developed working memory decline and progressive motor impairment. Multimodal imaging revealed circuit-wide white and gray matter degenerative processes in several key brain regions affected in HD. Taken together, we have developed a novel macaque model of HD that may be used to develop disease biomarkers and screen promising therapeutics.

    1. Neuroscience
    Ariane C Boehm, Anja B Friedrich ... Ilona C Grunwald Kadow
    Research Article Updated

    Motherhood induces a drastic, sometimes long-lasting, change in internal state and behavior in many female animals. How a change in reproductive state or the discrete event of mating modulates specific female behaviors is still incompletely understood. Using calcium imaging of the whole brain of Drosophila females, we find that mating does not induce a global change in brain activity. Instead, mating modulates the pheromone response of dopaminergic neurons innervating the fly’s learning and memory center, the mushroom body (MB). Using the mating-induced increased attraction to the odor of important nutrients, polyamines, we show that disruption of the female fly’s ability to smell, for instance the pheromone cVA, during mating leads to a reduction in polyamine preference for days later indicating that the odor environment at mating lastingly influences female perception and choice behavior. Moreover, dopaminergic neurons including innervation of the β’1 compartment are sufficient to induce the lasting behavioral increase in polyamine preference. We further show that MB output neurons (MBON) of the β’1 compartment are activated by pheromone odor and their activity during mating bidirectionally modulates preference behavior in mated and virgin females. Their activity is not required, however, for the expression of polyamine attraction. Instead, inhibition of another type of MBON innervating the β’2 compartment enables expression of high odor attraction. In addition, the response of a lateral horn (LH) neuron, AD1b2, which output is required for the expression of polyamine attraction, shows a modulated polyamine response after mating. Taken together, our data in the fly suggests that mating-related sensory experience regulates female odor perception and expression of choice behavior through a dopamine-gated learning circuit.