DOI: 10.1101/498675Dec 17, 2018Paper

Believing in one's power: a counterfactual heuristic for goal-directed control

BioRxiv : the Preprint Server for Biology
Valerian ChambonEtienne Koechlin


Most people envision themselves as operant agents endowed with the capacity to bring about changes in the outside world. This ability to monitor one's own causal power has long been suggested to rest upon a specific model of causal inference, i.e., a model of how our actions causally relate to their consequences. What this model is and how it may explain departures from optimal inference, e.g., illusory control and self-attribution biases, are still conjecture. To address this question, we designed a series of novel experiments requiring participants to continuously monitor their causal influence over the task environment by discriminating changes that were caused by their own actions from changes that were not. Comparing different models of choice, we found that participants' behaviour was best explained by a model deriving the consequences of the forgone action from the current action that was taken and assuming relative divergence between both. Importantly, this model agrees with the intuitive way of construing causal power as "difference-making" in which causally efficacious actions are actions that make a difference to the world. We suggest that our model outperformed all competitors because it closely mirrors people's bel...Continue Reading

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