Volume 18: pp. 011-031

Theoretical Mechanisms of Paradoxical Choices Involving Information

Valeria V. González

Department of Psychology, University of California-Los Angeles

Alicia Izquierdo

Department of Psychology, The Brain Research Institute, Integrative Center for Learning and Memory, Integrative Center for Addictions, University of California-Los Angeles

Aaron P. Blaisdell

Department of Psychology, The Brain Research Institute, Integrative Center for Learning and Memory, University of California-Los Angeles

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Humans and other animals often make decisions in conditions of uncertainty. Choosing an option that provides information and reduces uncertainty can often improve decision making. Yet, in decision-making tasks, animals such as pigeons, starlings, rats, and humans often choose information even when it cannot be used. A review of the behavioral contributions of such noninstrumental information is presented here, starting from the observing response literature, and then focusing on research using the paradoxical (aka suboptimal) choice task. In the paradoxical choice procedure, animals choose between two alternatives that differ in two main aspects: the information presented after each alternative and the overall reinforcement following each alternative. The richer alternative is followed by one or two cues that are followed by food on half of the trials; this is called the noninformative (No-Info) alternative. The leaner alternative is followed by one of two cues—one always followed by food and the other always followed by no food. Thus, both cues are informative about whether reinforcement will be delivered on that trial; this is called the informative alternative. Typically, animals develop a strong preference for the informative (Info) alternative, thereby failing to maximize reward. We review the following factors that influence the strength of this paradoxical choice: response requirement, delay-to-reward; contiguity between choice and information; reinforcement rate, motivational and individual differences, degrees of information, and what is learned about the informative cues. Finally, we review some of the most important models and their theoretical implications for the understanding of the phenomena.

Keywords: information,, choice, suboptimal, paradoxical

Author Note: Valeria V. González, UCLA Department of Psychology, 1285 Franz Hall, Los Angeles, CA 90095-1563, USA.

Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Valeria V. González at vgonzalez@psych.ucla.edu.