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Balancing Suspense and Surprise: Timely Decision Making with Endogenous Information Acquisition

Ahmed M. Alaa · Mihaela van der Schaar

Area 5+6+7+8 #46

Keywords: [ (Cognitive/Neuroscience) Perception ] [ Time Series Analysis ] [ (Other) Cognitive Science ] [ (Cognitive/Neuroscience) Theoretical Neuroscience ]


We develop a Bayesian model for decision-making under time pressure with endogenous information acquisition. In our model, the decision-maker decides when to observe (costly) information by sampling an underlying continuous-time stochastic process (time series) that conveys information about the potential occurrence/non-occurrence of an adverse event which will terminate the decision-making process. In her attempt to predict the occurrence of the adverse event, the decision-maker follows a policy that determines when to acquire information from the time series (continuation), and when to stop acquiring information and make a final prediction (stopping). We show that the optimal policy has a "rendezvous" structure, i.e. a structure in which whenever a new information sample is gathered from the time series, the optimal "date" for acquiring the next sample becomes computable. The optimal interval between two information samples balances a trade-off between the decision maker’s "surprise", i.e. the drift in her posterior belief after observing new information, and "suspense", i.e. the probability that the adverse event occurs in the time interval between two information samples. Moreover, we characterize the continuation and stopping regions in the decision-maker’s state-space, and show that they depend not only on the decision-maker’s beliefs, but also on the "context", i.e. the current realization of the time series.

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