Context-sensitive valuation and learning

Lindsay E. Hunter, Nathaniel D. Daw

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

16 Scopus citations


A variety of behavioral and neural phenomena suggest that organisms evaluate outcomes not on an absolute utility scale, but relative to some dynamic and context-sensitive reference or scale. Sometimes, as in foraging tasks, this results in sensible choices; in other situations, like choosing between options learned in different contexts, irrational choices can result. We argue that what unites and demystifies these various phenomena is that the brain's goal is not assessing utility as an end in itself, but rather comparing different options to choose the better one. In the presence of uncertainty, noise, or costly computation, adjusting options to the context can produce more accurate choices.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)122-127
Number of pages6
JournalCurrent Opinion in Behavioral Sciences
StatePublished - Oct 2021

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Psychiatry and Mental health
  • Cognitive Neuroscience
  • Behavioral Neuroscience


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