Animals depleting one patch of resources must decide when to leave and switch to a fresh patch. Foraging theory has predicted various decision mechanisms; which is best depends on environmental variation in patch quality. Previously we tested whether these mechanisms underlie human decision making when foraging for external resources; here we test whether humans behave similarly in a cognitive task seeking internally generated solutions. Subjects searched for meaningful words made from random letter sequences, and as their success rate declined, they could opt to switch to a fresh sequence. As in the external foraging context, time since the previous success and the interval preceding it had a major influence on when subjects switched. Subjects also used the commonness of sequence letters as a proximal cue to patch quality that influenced when to switch. Contrary to optimality predictions, switching decisions were independent of whether sequences differed little or widely in quality.