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  1. Beierholm, Ulrik R. (Ed.)
    Solutions to challenging inference problems are often subject to a fundamental trade-off between: 1) bias (being systematically wrong) that is minimized with complex inference strategies, and 2) variance (being oversensitive to uncertain observations) that is minimized with simple inference strategies. However, this trade-off is based on the assumption that the strategies being considered are optimal for their given complexity and thus has unclear relevance to forms of inference based on suboptimal strategies. We examined inference problems applied to rare, asymmetrically available evidence, which a large population of human subjects solved using a diverse set of strategies that varied in form and complexity. In general, subjects using more complex strategies tended to have lower bias and variance, but with a dependence on the form of strategy that reflected an inversion of the classic bias-variance trade-off: subjects who used more complex, but imperfect, Bayesian-like strategies tended to have lower variance but higher bias because of incorrect tuning to latent task features, whereas subjects who used simpler heuristic strategies tended to have higher variance because they operated more directly on the observed samples but lower, near-normative bias. Our results help define new principles that govern individual differences in behavior that depends on rare-event inference and, more generally, about the information-processing trade-offs that can be sensitive to not just the complexity, but also the optimality, of the inference process. 
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  2. Working memory, the brain’s ability to temporarily store and recall information, is a critical part of decision making – but it has its limits. The brain can only store so much information, for so long. Since decisions are not often acted on immediately, information held in working memory ‘degrades’ over time. However, it is unknown whether or not this degradation of information over time affects the accuracy of later decisions. The tactics that people use, knowingly or otherwise, to store information in working memory also remain unclear. Do people store pieces of information such as numbers, objects and particular details? Or do they tend to compute that information, make some preliminary judgement and recall their verdict later? Does the strategy chosen impact people’s decision-making? To investigate, Schapiro et al. devised a series of experiments to test whether the limitations of working memory, and how people store information, affect the accuracy of decisions they make. First, participants were shown an array of colored discs on a screen. Then, either immediately after seeing the disks or a few seconds later, the participants were asked to recall the position of one of the disks they had seen, or the average position of all the disks. This measured how much information degraded for a decision based on multiple items, and how much for a decision based on a single item. From this, the method of information storage used to make a decision could be inferred. Schapiro et al. found that the accuracy of people’s responses worsened over time, whether they remembered the position of each individual disk, or computed their average location before responding. The greater the delay between seeing the disks and reporting their location, the less accurate people’s responses tended to be. Similarly, the more disks a participant saw, the less accurate their response became. This suggests that however people store information, if working memory reaches capacity, decision-making suffers and that, over time, stored information decays. Schapiro et al. also noticed that participants remembered location information in different ways depending on the task and how many disks they were shown at once. This suggests people adopt different strategies to retain information momentarily. In summary, these findings help to explain how people process and store information to make decisions and how the limitations of working memory impact their decision-making ability. A better understanding of how people use working memory to make decisions may also shed light on situations or brain conditions where decision-making is impaired. 
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  3. Abstract

    When learning about dynamic and uncertain environments, people should update their beliefs most strongly when new evidence is most informative, such as when the environment undergoes a surprising change or existing beliefs are highly uncertain. Here we show that modulations of surprise and uncertainty are encoded in a particular, temporally dynamic pattern of whole-brain functional connectivity, and this encoding is enhanced in individuals that adapt their learning dynamics more appropriately in response to these factors. The key feature of this whole-brain pattern of functional connectivity is stronger connectivity, or functional integration, between the fronto-parietal and other functional systems. Our results provide new insights regarding the association between dynamic adjustments in learning and dynamic, large-scale changes in functional connectivity across the brain.

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