Charting the Expansion of Strategic Exploratory Behavior During Adolescence

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Abstract

Although models of exploratory decision making implicate a suite of strategies that guide the pursuit of information, the developmental emergence of these strategies remains poorly understood. This study takes an interdisciplinary perspective, merging computational decision making and developmental approaches to characterize age-related shifts in exploratory strategy from adolescence to young adulthood. Participants were 149 12–28-year-olds who completed a computational explore–exploit paradigm that manipulated reward value, information value, and decision horizon (i.e., the utility that information holds for future choices). Strategic directed exploration, defined as information seeking selective for long time horizons, emerged during adolescence and maintained its level through early adulthood. This age difference was partially driven by adolescents valuing immediate reward over new information. Strategic random exploration, defined as stochastic choice behavior selective for long time horizons, was invoked at comparable levels over the age range, and predicted individual differences in attitudes toward risk taking in daily life within the adolescent portion of the sample. Collectively, these findings reveal an expansion of the diversity of strategic exploration over development, implicate distinct mechanisms for directed and random exploratory strategies, and suggest novel mechanisms for adolescent-typical shifts in decision making.

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