Intrinsic Valuation of Information in Decision Making under Uncertainty

Daniel Bennett, Stefan Bode, Maja Brydevall, Hayley Warren, Carsten Murawski

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

20 Citations (Scopus)


In a dynamic world, an accurate model of the environment is vital for survival, and agents ought regularly to seek out new information with which to update their world models. This aspect of behaviour is not captured well by classical theories of decision making, and the cognitive mechanisms of information seeking are poorly understood. In particular, it is not known whether information is valued only for its instrumental use, or whether humans also assign it a non-instrumental intrinsic value. To address this question, the present study assessed preference for non-instrumental information among 80 healthy participants in two experiments. Participants performed a novel information preference task in which they could choose to pay a monetary cost to receive advance information about the outcome of a monetary lottery. Importantly, acquiring information did not alter lottery outcome probabilities. We found that participants were willing to incur considerable monetary costs to acquire payoff-irrelevant information about the lottery outcome. This behaviour was well explained by a computational cognitive model in which information preference resulted from aversion to temporally prolonged uncertainty. These results strongly suggest that humans assign an intrinsic value to information in a manner inconsistent with normative accounts of decision making under uncertainty. This intrinsic value may be associated with adaptive behaviour in real-world environments by producing a bias towards exploratory and information-seeking behaviour.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere1005020
Number of pages21
JournalPLoS Computational Biology
Issue number7
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jul 2016
Externally publishedYes

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