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Human decisions can be reflexive or planned, being governed respectively by model-free and model-based learning systems. These two systems might differ in their responsiveness to our needs. Hunger drives us to specifically seek food rewards, but here we ask whether it might have more general effects on these two decision systems. On one hand, the model-based system is often considered flexible and context-sensitive, and might therefore be modulated by metabolic needs. On the other hand, the model-free system's primitive reinforcement mechanisms may have closer ties to biological drives. Here, we tested participants on a well-established two-stage sequential decision-making task that dissociates the contribution of model-based and model-free control. Hunger enhanced overall performance by increasing model-free control, without affecting model-based control. These results demonstrate a generalized effect of hunger on decision-making that enhances reliance on primitive reinforcement learning, which in some situations translates into adaptive benefits.

Original publication




Journal article


Cogn Affect Behav Neurosci

Publication Date



Decision-making, Learning, Motivation, Planning, Reward