Continuous decisions

Seng Bum Michael Yoo, Benjamin Yost Hayden, John M. Pearson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

13 Scopus citations


Humans and other animals evolved to make decisions that extend over time with continuous and ever-changing options. Nonetheless, the academic study of decision-making is mostly limited to the simple case of choice between two options. Here, we advocate that the study of choice should expand to include continuous decisions. Continuous decisions, by our definition, involve a continuum of possible responses and take place over an extended period of time during which the response is continuously subject to modification. In most continuous decisions, the range of options can fluctuate and is affected by recent responses, making consideration of reciprocal feedback between choices and the environment essential. The study of continuous decisions raises new questions, such as how abstract processes of valuation and comparison are co-implemented with action planning and execution, how we simulate the large number of possible futures our choices lead to, and how our brains employ hierarchical structure to make choices more efficiently. While microeconomic theory has proven invaluable for discrete decisions, we propose that engineering control theory may serve as a better foundation for continuous ones. And while the concept of value has proven foundational for discrete decisions, goal states and policies may prove more useful for continuous ones. This article is part of the theme issue 'Existence and prevalence of economic behaviours among non-human primates'.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number20190664
JournalPhilosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Issue number1819
StatePublished - Mar 2021

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021 The Author(s).


  • continuous
  • embodied
  • open-world

PubMed: MeSH publication types

  • Journal Article
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural


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