Publications by Author: Daniel Bennett

Zorowitz, S., Niv, Y., & Bennett, D. (Forthcoming). Inattentive responding can induce spurious associations between task behavior and symptom measures. PreprintAbstract

A common research design in the field of computational psychiatry involves leveraging the power of online participant recruitment to assess correlations between behavior in cognitive tasks and the self-reported severity of psychiatric symptoms in large, diverse samples. Although large online samples have many advantages for psychiatric research, some potential pitfalls of this research design are not widely understood. Here we detail circumstances in which entirely spurious correlations may arise between task behavior and symptom severity as a result of inadequate screening of careless or low-effort responding on psychiatric symptom surveys. Specifically, since many psychiatric symptom surveys have asymmetric ground-truth score distributions in the general population, participants who respond carelessly on these surveys will show apparently elevated symptom levels. If these participants are similarly careless in their task performance, and are not excluded from analysis, this may result in a spurious association between greater symptom scores and worse behavioral task performance. Here, we demonstrate exactly this pattern of results in N = 386 participants recruited online to complete a self-report symptom battery and a short reversal-learning choice task. We show that many behavior-symptom correlations are entirely abolished when participants flagged for careless responding on surveys are excluded from analysis. We also show that exclusion based on task performance alone is not sufficient to prevent these spurious correlations. Of note, we demonstrate that false-positive rates for these spurious correlations increase with sample size, contrary to common assumptions. We offer guidance on how researchers using this general experimental design can guard against this issue in future research; in particular, we recommend the adoption of screening methods for self-report measures that are currently uncommon in this field.

Bennett, D., Niv, Y., & Langdon, A. (Forthcoming). Value-free reinforcement learning: Policy optimization as a minimal model of operant behavior. PreprintAbstract

Reinforcement learning is a powerful framework for modelling the cognitive and neural substrates of learning and decision making. Contemporary research in cognitive neuroscience and neuroeconomics typically uses value-based reinforcement-learning models, which assume that decision-makers choose by comparing learned values for dierent actions. However, another possibility is suggested by a simpler family of models, called policy-gradient reinforcement learning. Policy-gradient models learn by optimizing a behavioral policy directly, without the intermediate step of value-learning. Here we review recent behavioral and neural ndings that are more parsimoniously explained by policy-gradient models than by value-based models. We conclude that, despite the ubiquity of `value' in reinforcement-learning models of decision making, policy-gradient models provide a lightweight and compelling alternative model of operant behavior.

Bennett, D., Davidson, G., & Niv, Y. (Forthcoming). A model of mood as integrated advantage. PreprintAbstract
Mood is an integrative and diffuse affective state that is thought to exert a pervasive effect on cognition and behavior. At the same time, mood itself is thought to fluctuate slowly as a product of feedback from interactions with the environment. Here we present a new computational theory of the valence of mood—the Integrated Advantage model—that seeks to account for this bidirectional interaction. Adopting theoretical formalisms from reinforcement learning, we propose to conceptualize the valence of mood as a leaky integral of an agent’s appraisals of the Advantage of its actions. This model generalizes and extends previous models of mood wherein affective valence was conceptualized as a moving average of reward prediction errors. We give a full theoretical derivation of the Integrated Advantage model and provide a functional explanation of how an integrated-Advantage variable could be deployed adaptively by a biological agent to accelerate learning in complex and/or stochastic environments. Specifically, drawing on stochastic optimization theory, we propose that an agent can utilize our hypothesized form of mood to approximate a momentum-based update to its behavioral policy, thereby facilitating rapid learning of optimal actions. We then show how this model of mood provides a principled and parsimonious explanation for a number of contextual effects on mood from the affective science literature, including expectation- and surprise-related effects, counterfactual effects from information about foregone alternatives, action-typicality effects, and action/inaction asymmetry.
Bennett, D., Silverstein, S. M., & Niv, Y. (2019). The two cultures of computational psychiatry. JAMA Psychiatry. PDFAbstract
Translating advances in neuroscience into benefits for patients with mental illness presents enormous challenges because it involves both the most complex organ, the brain, and its interaction with a similarly complex environment. Dealing with such complexities demands powerful techniques. Computational psychiatry combines multiple levels and types of computation with multiple types of data in an effort to improve understanding, prediction and treatment of mental illness. Computational psychiatry, broadly defined, encompasses two complementary approaches: data driven and theory driven. Data-driven approaches apply machine-learning methods to high-dimensional data to improve classification of disease, predict treatment outcomes or improve treatment selection. These approaches are generally agnostic as to the underlying mechanisms. Theory-driven approaches, in contrast, use models that instantiate prior knowledge of, or explicit hypotheses about, such mechanisms, possibly at multiple levels of analysis and abstraction. We review recent advances in both approaches, with an emphasis on clinical applications, and highlight the utility of combining them.