Learning to Choose: Behavioral Dynamics Underlying the Initial Acquisition of Decision Making

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Current theories of decision making propose that decisions arise through competition between choice options. Computational models of the decision process estimate how quickly information about choice options is integrated and how much information is needed to trigger a choice. Experiments using this approach typically report data from well-trained participants. As such, we do not know how the decision process evolves as a decision-making task is learned for the first time. To address this gap, we used a behavioral design separating learning the value of choice options from learning to make choices. We trained male rats to respond to single visual stimuli with different reward values. Then, we trained them to make choices between pairs of stimuli. Initially, the rats responded more slowly when presented with choices. However, as they gained experience in making choices, this slowing reduced. Response slowing on choice trials persisted throughout the testing period. We found that it was specifically associated with increased exponential variability when the rats chose the higher value stimulus. Additionally, our analysis using drift diffusion modeling revealed that the rats required less information to make choices over time. Surprisingly, we observed reductions in the decision threshold after just a single session of choice learning. These findings provide new insights into the learning process of decision-making tasks. They suggest that the value of choice options and the ability to make choices are learned separately, and that experience plays a crucial role in improving decision-making performance.

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