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Read about the latest research published in Psychological Science.

The Curse of Planning: Dissecting Multiple Reinforcement-Learning Systems by Taxing the Central Executive

A. Ross Otto, Samuel J. Gershman, Arthur B. Markman, and Nathaniel D. Daw

Under what conditions do individuals rely on model-based rather than model-free reinforcement-learning systems? The researchers had participants complete a multistep choice paradigm. On some trials, participants had to simultaneously perform a secondary task designed to tax working memory resources. Participants relied more on a model-free system when they had to complete the demanding secondary task, and they relied on both systems when they did not. This suggests that competition between the two systems may be based on the availability of cognitive resources.

Attention Is Spontaneously Biased Toward Regularities

Jiaying Zhao, Naseem Al-Aidroos, and Nicholas B. Turk-Browne

Attention can be driven by internal goals, task rules, or salient external stimuli. In this study, the researchers asked whether attention can also be biased by statistical regularity. Participants viewed two streams of objects while monitoring for search arrays. One stream contained temporal regularities. The researchers found that the locations and features of objects embedded in temporal regularities received priority in visual searches, suggesting an implicit attentional bias for regularities during statistical learning.

Playing “Duck Duck Goose” With Neurons: Change Detection Through Connectivity Reduction

Xing Tian and David E. Huber      

For animals to detect change in their environment, they may reduce their responses to prior perceptions so that new objects become more salient. To explore how the brain accomplishes this, researchers had participants complete a category-matching task while inside a magnetoencephalography chamber. The results suggest that the reduction of meaning seen in semantic satiation is due to reduced connections between cortical areas involved in orthography and those involved in semantics. This indicates that decreases in connectivity are responsible for the enhanced detection of change.

Overearning

Christopher K. Hsee, Jiao Zhang, Cindy F. Cai, and Shirley Zhang

Why would people work more than is necessary to meet their needs even at the cost of their leisure time? Participants who listened to pleasant music had the chance to earn a reward by listening to an annoying sound instead. They earned more rewards than they could use even when doing so detracted from the reward experience. According to the researchers, overearning may result from the mindless accumulation of rewards, and reminding individuals of the consequences of their earnings may disrupt this process.