The explore-exploit dilemma

the grass is greener When you go to your favorite restaurant do you order the same thing as usual, a dish you are sure to find tasty but that yields no information, or do you try one of the specials and learn something new? This simple conundrum, deciding between going with what you know or trying something different, is at the heart of the exploration-exploitation dilemma and whether it's a cow looking for greener grass or a human looking for love, this problem is ubiquitous and important to solve. This work probes the neural mechanisms underlying the explore-exploit tradeoff in humans.

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Our first explore-exploit paper demonstrating the existence of two types of exploration: directed exploration in which exploration is driven by information, and random exploration in which exploration is driven by noise.
Wilson, R. C., Geana, A., White, J. M., Ludvig, E. A., & Cohen, J. D. (2014). Humans use directed and random exploration to solve the explore-exploit dilemma. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General 143(6), 2074-2081 [pdf] [supplement] [data]
Directed and random exploration are similar in both the gain and loss domains
Krueger, P. K., Wilson, R. C., & Cohen, J. D. (2017). Strategies for exploration in the domain of losses. Judgment and Decision Making 12(2), 104 [pdf]
These following papers provide initial evidence that directed and random exploration are driven by dissociable neural circuits. Somerville et al. (2017) shows that directed and random exploration have different developmental profiles, with directed, but not random exploration increasing in the teen years. Warren et al. (2017) shows that directed and random exploration have different dependence on norepinephrine, with random, but not directed exploration being modulated by atomoxetine, a norepinephrine reuptake inhibitor.
Somerville, L. H., Sasse, S. F., Garrad, M. C., Drysdale, M. T., Abi Akar, N., Insel, C. & Wilson, R. C. (2017). Charting the expansion of strategic exploratory behavior during adolescence. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General 146(2), 155-164 [pdf]
Warren, C. M., Eldar, E., van den Brink, R. L., Tona, K. D., van der Wee, N. J., Giltay, E. J., van Noorden, M. S., Wilson, R. C., Nystrom, L. E., Cohen, J. D., and Nieuwenhuis, S. (2016). Catecholamine-Mediated Increases in Gain Enhance the Precision of Cortical Representations. Journal of Neuroscience 36(21), 5699-5708 [pdf]