Sour grapes and sweet victories: How actions shape preferences

Fabien Vinckier, Lionel Rigoux, Irma T. Kurniawan, Chen Hu, Sacha Bourgeois-Gironde, Jean Daunizeau, Mathias Pessiglione

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Classical decision theory postulates that choices proceed from subjective values assigned to the probable outcomes of alternative actions. Some authors have argued that opposite causality should also be envisaged, with choices influencing subsequent values expressed in desirability ratings. The idea is that agents may increase their ratings of items that they have chosen in the first place, which has been typically explained by the need to reduce cognitive dissonance. However, evidence in favor of this reverse causality has been the topic of intense debates that have not reached consensus so far. Here, we take a novel approach using Bayesian techniques to compare models in which choices arise from stable (but noisy) underlying values (one-way causality) versus models in which values are in turn influenced by choices (two-way causality). Moreover, we examined whether in addition to choices, other components of previous actions, such as the effort invested and the eventual action outcome (success or failure), could also impact subsequent values. Finally, we assessed whether the putative changes in values were only expressed in explicit ratings, or whether they would also affect other value-related behaviors such as subsequent choices. Behavioral data were obtained from healthy participants in a rating-choice-rating-choice-rating paradigm, where the choice task involves deciding whether or not to exert a given physical effort to obtain a particular food item. Bayesian selection favored two-way causality models, where changes in value due to previous actions affected subsequent ratings, choices and action outcomes. Altogether, these findings may help explain how values and actions drift when several decisions are made successively, hence highlighting some shortcomings of classical decision theory.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere1006499
JournalPLoS Computational Biology
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2019
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2019 Vinckier et al.

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Modeling and Simulation
  • Ecology
  • Molecular Biology
  • Genetics
  • Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience
  • Computational Theory and Mathematics


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