Incentives Boost Model-Based Control Across a Range of Severity on Several Psychiatric Constructs

TitleIncentives Boost Model-Based Control Across a Range of Severity on Several Psychiatric Constructs
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2019
AuthorsPatzelt, EH, Kool, W, Millner, AJ, Gershman, SJ
JournalBiological Psychiatry
Pagination425 - 433
Date Published03/2019
KeywordsComputational psychiatry, Habits and goals Incentives, Model-based control, Psychiatric constructs, reinforcement learning


Human decision making exhibits a mixture of model-based and model-free control. Recent evidence indicates that arbitration between these two modes of control (“metacontrol”) is based on their relative costs and benefits. While model-based control may increase accuracy, it requires greater computational resources, so people invoke model-based control only when potential rewards exceed those of model-free control. We used a sequential decision task, while concurrently manipulating performance incentives, to ask if symptoms and traits of psychopathology decrease or increase model-based control in response to incentives.


We recruited a nonpatient population of 839 online participants using Amazon Mechanical Turk who completed transdiagnostic self-report measures encompassing symptoms, traits, and factors. We fit a dual-controller reinforcement learning model and obtained a computational measure of model-based control separately for small incentives and large incentives.


None of the constructs were related to a failure of large incentives to boost model-based control. In fact, for the sensation seeking trait and anxious-depression factor, higher scores were associated with a larger incentive effect, whereby greater levels of these constructs were associated with larger increases in model-based control. Many constructs showed decreases in model-based control as a function of severity, but a social withdrawal factor was positively correlated; alcohol use and social anxiety were unrelated to model-based control.


Our results demonstrate that model-based control can reliably be improved independent of construct severity for most measures. This suggests that incentives may be a useful intervention for boosting model-based control across a range of symptom and trait severity.

Short TitleBiological Psychiatry

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