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Change point detection with multiple alternatives reveals parallel evaluation of the same stream of evidence along distinct timescales.

Abstract

In order to behave appropriately in a rapidly changing world, individuals must be able to detect when changes occur in that environment. However, at any given moment, there are a multitude of potential changes of behavioral significance that could occur. Here we investigate how knowledge about the space of possible changes affects human change point detection. We used a stochastic auditory change point detection task that allowed model-free and model-based characterization of the decision process people employ. We found that subjects can simultaneously apply distinct timescales of evidence evaluation to the same stream of evidence when there are multiple types of changes possible. Informative cues that specified the nature of the change led to improved accuracy for change point detection through mechanisms involving both the timescales of evidence evaluation and adjustments of decision bounds. These results establish three important capacities of information processing for decision making that any proposed neural mechanism of evidence evaluation must be able to support: the ability to simultaneously employ multiple timescales of evidence evaluation, the ability to rapidly adjust those timescales, and the ability to modify the amount of information required to make a decision in the context of flexible timescales.

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