Dual Process Theory Opposes Decision Theory?
Do any of the findings that support the dual-process theory of instrumental action enable us to construct a good objection to decision theory as an elucidation of subjective probabilities and preferences?
The dual-process theory of instrumental action was introduced in
Goal-Directed and Habitual Processes.
We considered decision theory as an
elucidation of subjective probabilities and preferences
in What Are Preferences?.
The following claims cannot all be true:
Instrumental actions maximise agents’ expected utilities.
Decision theory provides an ‘elucidation of the notions of subjective probability and subjective desirability or utility’ (Jeffrey, 1983, p. xi).
The notions elucidated are those of belief and desire, which also feature in the model of goal-directed processes.
Some instrumental actions are dominated by habitual processes (see Goal-Directed and Habitual: Some Evidence).
Habitual and goal-directed processes can pull in opposing directions (see The Minor Puzzle about Habitual Action).
What think that these are jointly inconsistent?
Because their truth would indicate that we have no grounds to expect agents to
act in accordance with the axioms required to make (1) true.
The joint inconsistency of these claims is significant:
it suggests that we cannot use decision theory as an anchor for thinking about notions of belief and desire.
But perhaps there is a way to avoid this conclusion?
Are the claims actually inconsistent?
Or is there some way to use
decision theory as an anchor for thinking about notions of belief and desire
despite the inconsistency of the above claims?
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: A theory, fact or other thing that is used by a group of researchers to ensure
that they have a shared understanding of a phenomenon.
An anchor is needed when it is unclear whether different researchers are offering
incompatible claims about a single phenomenon or compatible claims about distinct phenomena.
For example, we might take decision theory
to anchor a shared understanding of belief and desire.
: I use ‘decision theory’ for the theory elaborated by Jeffrey (1983). Variants are variously called ‘expected utility theory’ (Hargreaves-Heap & Varoufakis, 2004), ‘revealed preference theory’ (Sen, 1973) and ‘the theory of rational choice’ (Sugden, 1991). As the differences between variants are not important for our purposes, the term can be used for any of core formal parts of the standard approaches based on Ramsey (1931) and Savage (1972).
dual-process theory of instrumental action
: Instrumental action ‘is controlled by two dissociable processes: a
goal-directed and an habitual process’ (Dickinson, 2016, p. 177).
(See instrumental action.)
: A process which involves ‘a
representation of the causal relationship between the action and outcome
and a representation of the current incentive value, or utility, of the
outcome’ and which influences an action ‘in a way that rationalizes
the action as instrumental for attaining the goal’ (Dickinson, 2016, p. 177).
: A process underpinning some instrumental actions which obeys
Thorndyke’s Law of Effect:
‘The presentation of an effective [=rewarding] outcome following an action [...] reinforces
a connection between the stimuli present when the action is performed and the action itself
so that subsequent presentations of these stimuli elicit the [...] action as a response’
(Dickinson, 1994, p. 48).
(Interesting complication which you can safely ignore: there is probably much more to say about
under what conditions the stimulus–action connection is strengthened; e.g. Thrailkill, Trask, Vidal, Alcalá, & Bouton, 2018.)
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Dickinson, A. (1994). Instrumental conditioning. In N. Mackintosh (Ed.), Animal learning and cognition
. London: Academic Press.
Dickinson, A. (2016). Instrumental conditioning revisited: Updating dual-process theory. In J. B. Trobalon & V. D. Chamizo (Eds.), Associative learning and cognition
(Vol. 51, pp. 177–195). Edicions Universitat Barcelona.
Hargreaves-Heap, S., & Varoufakis, Y. (2004). Game theory: A critical introduction
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. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
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Savage, L. J. (1972). The foundations of statistics
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Thrailkill, E. A., Trask, S., Vidal, P., Alcalá, J. A., & Bouton, M. E. (2018). Stimulus control of actions and habits: A role for reinforcer predictability and attention in the development of habitual behavior. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Animal Learning and Cognition
, 370–384. https://doi.org/10.1037/xan0000188
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