New paper out: Cognitive tasks on habitual and goal-directed control, do they measure the same thing?

Today our paper was published in Frontiers in Behavioral Neuroscience: “Slips of Action and Sequential Decisions: A Cross-Validation Study of Tasks Assessing Habitual and Goal-Directed Action Control“. In this study we cross-validated two tasks assessing aspects of habitual and goal-directed control: a slips-of-action task (de Wit et al., 2012) and a sequential decision-making task (Daw et al., 2011). We correlated parameters of relative goal-directed and habitual control (devaluation sensitivity index, DSI) from the slips-of-action task and model-based (MB) and model-free (MF) control from the two-step decision-making task. We find that MB control during the two-step task showed a very moderately positive correlation with goal-directed devaluation sensitivity, whereas MF control in the two-step task did not show any associations with measures of the slips-of-action task. This could potentially support a common framework to describe the tendency towards goal-directed behavior, but not habitual behavior, as measured with these two frequently used tasks. In addition, goal-directed performance on both tasks was related to independent higher-order cognitive measures, including visual short-term memory. An exploratory mediation analysis indicated that short-term memory partly mediated the found correlation between goal-directed behavior in the two tasks. This could signify that the propensity to be goal-directed in each of the tasks depends on higher-order cognitive capacities, which could furthermore explain the moderate overlap between the two constructs. Interestingly, two previous studies do show overlap between assessments of goal-dircted behavior on different tasks (Friedel et al., 2014; Gillan et al., 2015), providing evidence that it is possible to measure overlapping constructs in the goal-directed domain with different tasks / assessments. However, it remains unclear how these findings are further related to other cognitive assessments.

In sum, the evidence of a common framework is not strong in this study: we have to caution that the amount of shared variance between the goal-directed and MB system in both tasks was rather low, and the found overlap between the tasks could putatively be (partly) related to more general cognitive capacities. This suggests that each task does also pick up distinct aspects of goal-directed behavior. It is likely that devaluation sensitivity in the slips-of-action task captures sensitivity to outcome value, whereas a measure of model-based control in the two-step task (additionally) seizes sensitivity to outcome contingency; both part of the definition of goal-directed behavior, but measured in different ways.


Publication: Sjoerds Z, Dietrich A, Deserno L, de Wit S, Villringer A, Heinze H-J, Schlagenhauf F and Horstmann A (2016). Slips of Action and Sequential Decisions: A Cross-Validation Study of Tasks Assessing Habitual and Goal-Directed Action Control. Front. Behav. Neurosci. 10:234. doi: 10.3389/fnbeh.2016.00234


Welcome to my website! Here I will keep you posted on my research in the field of Cognitive Neuroscience. Right now it is still under construction, but I will add content along the way, including projects, new publications and blog posts. Please check back again soon!

Best, Zsuzsi