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An Interface Problem: Preferences

An interface problem ...

‘we should search in vain among the literature for a consensus about the psychological processes by which primary motivational states, such as hunger and thirst, regulate simple goal-directed [i.e. instrumental] acts


Dickinson & Balleine, 1994 p. 1

This is a very basic question. Why do you go to the kitchen and press the lever to get some water when you are thirsty?

An Interface Problem:

How are non-accidental matches possible?

Primary motivational states guide some actions.

Preferences guide some actions.

Pursuing a single goal can involve both kinds of state.

As in the case of lever pressing then magazine entry to get the sugar solution. (Not demonstrated in this talk.)

Primary motivational states can differ from preferences.

Two motivational states match in a particular context just if, in that context, the actions one would cause and the actions the other would cause are not too different.

... an interface problem where there are two sets of preferences. Here there’s conversation to sort them out (although that doesn’t work so well)

Experience is key ...

‘primary motivational states, such as hunger, do not determine the value of an instrumental goal directly;

rather, animals have to learn about the value of a commodity in a particular motivational state through direct experience with it in that state’

‘primary motivational states have no direct impact on the current value that an agent assigns to a past outcome of an instrumental action; rather, it appears that agents have to learn about the value of an outcome through direct experience with it, a process that we refer to as \emph{incentive learning}’

Dickinson & Balleine , 1994 p. 7

A role for experience in solving the interface problem.

Why are rats (and you) aware of bodily states such as hunger and revulsion?

Because this awareness enables your preferences to be coupled,
but only losely,
to your primary motivational states.

Isn’t it redunant to have dissociable kinds of motivational state?

‘the motivational control over goal-directed actions is, at least in part, indirect and mediated by learning about one's own reactions to primary incentives.

By this process [...], goal-directed actions are liberated from the tyranny of primary motivation


Dickinson & Balleine , 1994 p. 16