Balancing model-based and memory-free action selection under competitive pressure.
AbstractIn competitive situations, winning depends on selecting actions that surprise the opponent. Such unpredictable action can be generated based on representations of the opponent's strategy and choice history (model-based counter-prediction) or by choosing actions in a memory-free, stochastic manner. Across five different experiments using a variant of a matching-pennies game with simulated and human opponents we found that people toggle between these two strategies, using model-based selection when recent wins signal the appropriateness of the current model, but reverting to stochastic selection following losses. Also, after wins, feedback-related, mid-frontal EEG activity reflected information about the opponent's global and local strategy, and predicted upcoming choices. After losses, this activity was nearly absent-indicating that the internal model is suppressed after negative feedback. We suggest that the mixed-strategy approach allows negotiating two conflicting goals: 1) exploiting the opponent's deviations from randomness while 2) remaining unpredictable for the opponent.