Deliberation and procedural automation on a two-step task for rats

Brendan M. Hasz, A. David Redish

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

17 Scopus citations


Current theories suggest that decision-making arises from multiple, competing action-selection systems. Rodent studies dissociate deliberation and procedural behavior, and find a transition from procedural to deliberative behavior with experience. However, it remains unknown how this transition from deliberative to procedural control evolves within single trials, or within blocks of repeated choices. We adapted for rats a two-step task which has been used to dissociate model-based from model-free decisions in humans. We found that amixture ofmodel-based andmodel-free algorithms was more likely to explain rat choice strategies on the task than either model-based or model-free algorithms alone. This task contained two choices per trial, which provides a more complex and non-discrete per-trial choice structure. This task structure enabled us to evaluate how deliberative and procedural behavior evolved within-trial and within blocks of repeated choice sequences. We found that vicarious trial and error (VTE), a behavioral correlate of deliberation in rodents, was correlated between the two choice points on a given lap. We also found that behavioral stereotypy, a correlate of procedural automation, increased with the number of repeated choices. While VTE at the first choice point decreased with the number of repeated choices, VTE at the second choice point did not, and only increased after unexpected transitions within the task. This suggests that deliberation at the beginning of trialsmay correspond to changes in choice patterns, while mid-trial deliberation may correspond to an interruption of a procedural process.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number30
JournalFrontiers in Integrative Neuroscience
StatePublished - Aug 3 2018

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Thanks to Charlie Jackson for help running the experiments, and to Yannick Breton for writing the code to find rat head position from video. This work was funded by NSF IGERT Neuroengineering grant DGE-1069104 and NIH R01 MH112688.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2018 Hasz and Redish.


  • Decision-making
  • Model-based
  • Model-free
  • Path stereotypy
  • Reinforcement learning
  • Vicarious trial and error


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