Fun and Games: Neural Mechanisms Underlying Strategic Decision-Making
Ming Hsu, University of California, Berkley

Real-life decisions frequently require rapid appraisal and adjustment in the face of uncertainty. In addition, in many situations decisions are made through the interaction of multiple individuals, where the outcome is determined by the joint actions of those involved. To behave appropriately in such contexts, therefore, agents need to understand the incentives and form appropriate mental models of other intelligent agents. That is, the organism needs to be able to behave strategically.

In contrast to decision-making in non-social settings, which has been the focus of intense research in the past decade, we know relatively little about the neural substrates of social and strategic decision-making. Much of this derives from the inherent complexity of strategic behavior, which poses a number of conceptual, statistical, and methodological challenges. Game theory, by modeling strategic interactions of rational individuals, offers a way to quantify and model such complex behavior. We, and a growing number of labs, have begun to search for the neural substrates underlying strategic behavior guided by these models.
In this talk I will present two ongoing studies, the first on neural mechanisms underlying strategic learning, and the second on characterizing social preferences in a clinical population. Together, they help to illustrate (1) how we are using methods and models from game theory to advance our understanding of the neural mechanisms underlying strategic behavior, and (2) how an understanding of the neural mechanisms can provide new data to motivate and discipline mathematical models of behavior.

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