Continuous evolution of statistical estimators for optimal decision-making

Ian Saunders, Sethu Vijayakumar

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

In many everyday situations, humans must make precise decisions in the presence of uncertain sensory information. For example, when asked to combine information from multiple sources we often assign greater weight to the more reliable information. It has been proposed that statistical-optimality often observed in human perception and decision-making requires that humans have access to the uncertainty of both their senses and their decisions. However, the mechanisms underlying the processes of uncertainty estimation remain largely unexplored. In this paper we introduce a novel visual tracking experiment that requires subjects to continuously report their evolving perception of the mean and uncertainty of noisy visual cues over time. We show that subjects accumulate sensory information over the course of a trial to form a continuous estimate of the mean, hindered only by natural kinematic constraints (sensorimotor latency etc.). Furthermore, subjects have access to a measure of their continuous objective uncertainty, rapidly acquired from sensory information available within a trial, but limited by natural kinematic constraints and a conservative margin for error. Our results provide the first direct evidence of the continuous mean and uncertainty estimation mechanisms in humans that may underlie optimal decision making.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere37547
Number of pages14
JournalPLoS ONE
Volume7
Issue number6
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2012

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