Goblin Heist (model-based behaviour)

While you were trying to remember which shuttle took you to which planet and which goblin was in a better mood to give you more treasures, we were able to track how you make decisions.

What are we studying?

When you are thinking about which TV show to watch in the evening, you can rely on two different strategies. Firstly, you can depend on habit and choose the show that you always watch. Alternatively, you can plan your actions more thoughtfully – you might look up ratings for different shows in a specific category and then choose one with the best rating. The former decision uses a fast and automatic system, which does not require a lot of ‘brain-power’, whereas the latter is a slower process that requires planning and more cognitive resources.

In the ‘Goblin Heist’ game, we can distinguish between those two strategies and measure how much you rely on habit or planning. If you rely more on habit, you might remember which shuttle takes you to which goblin and how much treasure you got from that goblin. If the goblin was happy, you might choose the same shuttle again, and if the goblin didn’t give much treasure, you might try the other shuttle to go to a different planet. On the other hand, when you use a more laborious planning strategy, then you might keep in mind that different shuttles take you to the same planet. This way, you can also update your knowledge about how much treasure the goblin gives you for the other shuttle that takes you to the same goblin. Consequently, you may choose the other shuttle that leads to the same planet if the goblin gave you many treasures.

Why are we interested in that?

Previous research has found that some groups of people rely more on one of the systems. For example, individuals who suffer from obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) use less of the planning strategy in a similar game. In this study, we want to explore whether we can identify specific subgroups of people who struggle with planning, or the opposite, who waste too many cognitive resources and plan too much.

Further reading

Kahneman D (2011). Thinking, Fast and Slow. Penguin Books

Daw ND, Gershman SJ, Seymour B, Dayan P, Dolan RJ (2011). Model-based influences on humans’ choices and striatal prediction errors. Neuron.

Gillan CM, Kalanthroff E, Evans M, Weingarden HM, Jacoby RJ, Gershkovich M, Snorrason I, Campeas R, Cervoni C, Crimarco NC, Sokol Y, Garnaat SL, McLaughlin NCR, Phelps EA, Pinto A, Boisseau CL, Wilhelm S, Daw ND, Simpson HB (2020). Comparison of the Association Between Goal-Directed Planning and Self-reported Compulsivity vs Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder Diagnosis. JAMA Psychiatry.

Kool W, Cushman FA, Gershman SJ (2016). When Does Model-Based Control Pay Off? PLoS Comput Biol.