Hierarchical Bayesian inference for concurrent model fitting and comparison for group studies

Payam Piray, Amir Dezfouli, Tom Heskes, Michael J. Frank, Nathaniel D. Daw

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

54 Scopus citations


Computational modeling plays an important role in modern neuroscience research. Much previous research has relied on statistical methods, separately, to address two problems that are actually interdependent. First, given a particular computational model, Bayesian hierarchical techniques have been used to estimate individual variation in parameters over a population of subjects, leveraging their population-level distributions. Second, candidate models are themselves compared, and individual variation in the expressed model estimated, according to the fits of the models to each subject. The interdependence between these two problems arises because the relevant population for estimating parameters of a model depends on which other subjects express the model. Here, we propose a hierarchical Bayesian inference (HBI) framework for concurrent model comparison, parameter estimation and inference at the population level, combining previous approaches. We show that this framework has important advantages for both parameter estimation and model comparison theoretically and experimentally. The parameters estimated by the HBI show smaller errors compared to other methods. Model comparison by HBI is robust against outliers and is not biased towards overly simplistic models. Furthermore, the fully Bayesian approach of our theory enables researchers to make inference on group-level parameters by performing HBI t-test.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere1007043
JournalPLoS computational biology
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jun 2019

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Genetics
  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience
  • Molecular Biology
  • Ecology
  • Computational Theory and Mathematics
  • Modeling and Simulation


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