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Journal Article

Evidence for entropy maximisation in human free choice behaviour


Schwartenbeck,  P       
Department of Computational Neuroscience, Max Planck Institute for Biological Cybernetics, Max Planck Society;

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Rens, N., Lancia, G., Eluchans, M., Schwartenbeck, P., Cunnington, R., & Pezzulo, G. (2023). Evidence for entropy maximisation in human free choice behaviour. Cognition, 232: 105328. doi:10.1016/j.cognition.2022.105328.

Cite as: https://hdl.handle.net/21.11116/0000-000B-B2AB-B
The freedom to choose between options is strongly linked to notions of free will. Accordingly, several studies have shown that individuals demonstrate a preference for choice, or the availability of multiple options, over and above utilitarian value. Yet we lack a decision-making framework that integrates preference for choice with traditional utility maximisation in free choice behaviour. Here we test the predictions of an inference-based model of decision-making in which an agent actively seeks states yielding entropy (availability of options) in addition to utility (economic reward). We designed a study in which participants freely navigated a virtual environment consisting of two consecutive choices leading to reward locations in separate rooms. Critically, the choice of one room always led to two final doors while, in the second room, only one door was permissible to choose. This design allowed us to separately determine the influence of utility and entropy on participants' choice behaviour and their self-evaluation of free will. We found that choice behaviour was better predicted by an inference-based model than by expected utility alone, and that both the availability of options and the value of the context positively influenced participants' perceived freedom of choice. Moreover, this consideration of options was apparent in the ongoing motion dynamics as individuals navigated the environment. In a second study, in which participants selected between rooms that gave access to three or four doors, we observed a similar pattern of results, with participants preferring the room that gave access to more options and feeling freer in it. These results suggest that free choice behaviour is well explained by an inference-based framework in which both utility and entropy are optimised and supports the idea that the feeling of having free will is tightly related to options availability.