Model-based foraging using latent-cause inference
Foraging has been suggested to provide a more ecologically-valid context for studying decision-making. However, the environments used in human foraging tasks fail to capture the structure of real world environments which contain multiple levels of spatio-temporal regularities. We ask if foragers detect these statistical regularities and use them to construct a model of the environment that guides their patch-leaving decisions. We propose a model of how foragers might accomplish this, and test its predictions in a foraging task with a structured environment that includes patches of varying quality and predictable transitions. Here, we show that human foraging decisions reflect ongoing, statistically-optimal structure learning. Participants modulated decisions based on the current and potential future context. From model fits to behavior, we can identify an individual's structure learning ability and relate it to decision strategy. These findings demonstrate the utility of leveraging model-based reinforcement learning to understand foraging behavior.