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Optimal reward harvesting in complex perceptual environments

Navalpakkam, Vidhya and Koch, Christof and Rangel, Antonio and Perona, Pietro (2010) Optimal reward harvesting in complex perceptual environments. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 107 (11). pp. 5232-5237. ISSN 0027-8424. PMCID PMC2841865.

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The ability to choose rapidly among multiple targets embedded in a complex perceptual environment is key to survival. Targets may differ in their reward value as well as in their low-level perceptual properties (e.g., visual saliency). Previous studies investigated separately the impact of either value or saliency on choice; thus, it is not known how the brain combines these two variables during decision making. We addressed this question with three experiments in which human subjects attempted to maximize their monetary earnings by rapidly choosing items from a brief display. Each display contained several worthless items (distractors) as well as two targets, whose value and saliency were varied systematically. We compared the behavioral data with the predictions of three computational models assuming that (i) subjects seek the most valuable item in the display, (ii) subjects seek the most easily detectable item, and (iii) subjects behave as an ideal Bayesian observer who combines both factors to maximize the expected reward within each trial. Regardless of the type of motor response used to express the choices, we find that decisions are influenced by both value and feature-contrast in a way that is consistent with the ideal Bayesian observer, even when the targets’ feature-contrast is varied unpredictably between trials. This suggests that individuals are able to harvest rewards optimally and dynamically under time pressure while seeking multiple targets embedded in perceptual clutter.

Item Type:Article
Related URLs:
URLURL TypeDescription Information CentralArticle
Koch, Christof0000-0001-6482-8067
Perona, Pietro0000-0002-7583-5809
Additional Information:© 2010 National Academy of Sciences. Edited by Anne Treisman, Princeton University, Princeton, NJ, and approved January 22, 2010 (received for review October 16, 2009). PNAS first published March 1, 2010. We thank Mike Landy, the two anonymous reviewers, and the editor for their valuable comments on the manuscript. This work was supported by grants from the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, the Office of Naval Research, the National Science Foundation, and the National Institutes of Health. The funding agencies had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript. Author contributions: V.N., C.K., A.R., and P.P. designed research; V.N. performed research; V.N., A.R., and P.P. contributed new reagents/analytic tools; V.N. analyzed data; and V.N., C.K., A.R., and P.P. wrote the paper. The authors declare no conflict of interest. This article is a PNAS Direct Submission. This article contains supporting information online at
Group:Koch Laboratory (KLAB)
Funding AgencyGrant Number
National Geospatial-Intelligence AgencyUNSPECIFIED
Office of Naval Research (ONR)UNSPECIFIED
Subject Keywords:decision making; reward; visual saliency; search; multiple targets
Issue or Number:11
PubMed Central ID:PMC2841865
Record Number:CaltechAUTHORS:20200331-085711260
Persistent URL:
Official Citation:Optimal reward harvesting in complex perceptual environments. Vidhya Navalpakkam, Christof Koch, Antonio Rangel, Pietro Perona. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences Mar 2010, 200911972; DOI: 10.1073/pnas.0911972107
Usage Policy:No commercial reproduction, distribution, display or performance rights in this work are provided.
ID Code:102191
Deposited By: Tony Diaz
Deposited On:31 Mar 2020 16:08
Last Modified:31 Mar 2020 16:08

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