We propose a framework for including information-processing bounds in rational analyses. It is an application of bounded optimality (Russell & Subramanian, 1995) to the challenges of developing theories of mechanism and behavior. The framework is based on the idea that behaviors are generated by cognitive mechanisms that are adapted to the structure of not only the environment but also the mind and brain itself. We call the framework computational rationality to emphasize the incorporation of computational mechanism into the definition of (...) rational action. Theories are specified as optimal program problems, defined by an adaptation environment, a bounded machine, and a utility function. Such theories yield different classes of explanation, depending on the extent to which they emphasize adaptation to bounds, and adaptation to some ecology that differs from the immediate local environment. We illustrate this variation with examples from three domains: visual attention in a linguistic task, manual response ordering, and reasoning. We explore the relation of this framework to existing “levels” approaches to explanation, and to other optimality-based modeling approaches. (shrink)
We explore the idea that eye-movement strategies in reading are precisely adapted to the joint constraints of task structure, task payoff, and processing architecture. We present a model of saccadic control that separates a parametric control policy space from a parametric machine architecture, the latter based on a small set of assumptions derived from research on eye movements in reading (Engbert, Nuthmann, Richter, & Kliegl, 2005; Reichle, Warren, & McConnell, 2009). The eye-control model is embedded in a decision architecture (a (...) machine and policy space) that is capable of performing a simple linguistic task integrating information across saccades. Model predictions are derived by jointly optimizing the control of eye movements and task decisions under payoffs that quantitatively express different desired speed-accuracy trade-offs. The model yields distinct eye-movement predictions for the same task under different payoffs, including single-fixation durations, frequency effects, accuracy effects, and list position effects, and their modulation by task payoff. The predictions are compared to—and found to accord with—eye-movement data obtained from human participants performing the same task under the same payoffs, but they are found not to accord as well when the assumptions concerning payoff optimization and processing architecture are varied. These results extend work on rational analysis of oculomotor control and adaptation of reading strategy (Bicknell & Levy, ; McConkie, Rayner, & Wilson, 1973; Norris, 2009; Wotschack, 2009) by providing evidence for adaptation at low levels of saccadic control that is shaped by quantitatively varying task demands and the dynamics of processing architecture. (shrink)
Utility maximization is a key element of a number of theoretical approaches to explaining human behavior. Among these approaches are rational analysis, ideal observer theory, and signal detection theory. While some examples of these approaches define the utility maximization problem with little reference to the bounds imposed by the organism, others start with, and emphasize approaches in which bounds imposed by the information processing architecture are considered as an explicit part of the utility maximization problem. These latter approaches are the (...) topic of this issue of the journal. (shrink)
It is known that, on average, people adapt their choice of memory strategy to the subjective utility of interaction. What is not known is whether an individual's choices are boundedly optimal. Two experiments are reported that test the hypothesis that an individual's decisions about the distribution of remembering between internal and external resources are boundedly optimal where optimality is defined relative to experience, cognitive constraints, and reward. The theory makes predictions that are tested against data, not fitted to it. The (...) experiments use a no-choice/choice utility learning paradigm where the no-choice phase is used to elicit a profile of each participant's performance across the strategy space and the choice phase is used to test predicted choices within this space. They show that the majority of individuals select strategies that are boundedly optimal. Further, individual differences in what people choose to do are successfully predicted by the analysis. Two issues are discussed: the performance of the minority of participants who did not find boundedly optimal adaptations, and the possibility that individuals anticipate what, with practice, will become a bounded optimal strategy, rather than what is boundedly optimal during training. (shrink)
A promising approach to more refined models consistent with the Caplan & Waters hypothesis is based on similarity-based interference, a general principle that applies across working memory domains. This may explain both the fine details of syntactic working memory phenomena and the gross fractionation for which Caplan & Waters have found evidence. Detailed models of syntactic processing that embody similarity-based interference fare well cross-linguistically.