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Real-life decision-making often comprises sequences of successive decisions about whether to take opportunities as they are encountered or keep searching for better ones instead. We investigated individual differences related to such sequential decision-making and link them especially to apathy and compulsivity in a large online sample (discovery sample: n = 449 and confirmation sample: n = 756). Our cognitive model revealed distinct changes in the way participants evaluated their environments and planned their own future behaviour. Apathy was linked to decision inertia, i.e., automatically persisting with a sequence of searches for longer than appropriate given the value of searching. Thus, despite being less motivated, they did not avoid the effort associated with longer searches. In contrast, compulsivity was linked to self-reported insensitivity to the cost of continuing with a sequence of searches. The objective measures of behavioural cost insensitivity were clearly linked to compulsivity only in the discovery sample. While the confirmation sample showed a similar effect, it did not reach significance. Nevertheless, in both samples, participants reported awareness of such bias (experienced as "overchasing"). In addition, this awareness made them report preemptively avoiding situations related to the bias. However, we found no evidence of them actually preempting more in the task, which might mean a misalignment of their metacognitive beliefs or that our behavioural measures were incomplete. In summary, individual variation in distinct, fundamental aspects of sequential decision-making can be linked to variation in 2 measures of behavioural traits associated with psychological illness in the normal population.

Original publication




Journal article


PLoS Biol

Publication Date





Apathy, Decision Making, Humans, Metacognition