Human inference reflects a normative balance of complexity and accuracy

Gaia Tavoni, Takahiro Doi, Chris Pizzica, Vijay Balasubramanian, Joshua I. Gold

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


We must often infer latent properties of the world from noisy and changing observations. Complex, probabilistic approaches to this challenge such as Bayesian inference are accurate but cognitively demanding, relying on extensive working memory and adaptive processing. Simple heuristics are easy to implement but may be less accurate. What is the appropriate balance between complexity and accuracy? Here we model a hierarchy of strategies of variable complexity and find a power law of diminishing returns: increasing complexity gives progressively smaller gains in accuracy. The rate of diminishing returns depends systematically on the statistical uncertainty in the world, such that complex strategies do not provide substantial benefits over simple ones when uncertainty is either too high or too low. In between, there is a complexity dividend. In two psychophysical experiments, we confirm specific model predictions about how working memory and adaptivity should be modulated by uncertainty.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1153-1168
Number of pages16
JournalNature Human Behaviour
Issue number8
StatePublished - Aug 2022


Dive into the research topics of 'Human inference reflects a normative balance of complexity and accuracy'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this