Model-Based and Model-Free Social Cognition: Investigating the Role of Habit in Social Attitude Formation and Choice

Leor M. Hackel, Jeffrey J. Berg, Björn R. Lindström, David M. Amodio

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Do habits play a role in our social impressions? To investigate the contribution of habits to the formation of social attitudes, we examined the roles of model-free and model-based reinforcement learning in social interactions – computations linked in past work to habit and planning, respectively. Participants in this study learned about novel individuals in a sequential reinforcement learning paradigm, choosing financial advisors who led them to high- or low-paying stocks. Results indicated that participants relied on both model-based and model-free learning, such that each type of learning was expressed in both advisor choices and post-task self-reported liking of advisors. Specifically, participants preferred advisors who could provide large future rewards as well as advisors who had provided them with large rewards in the past. Although participants relied more heavily on model-based learning overall, they varied in their use of model-based and model-free learning strategies, and this individual difference influenced the way in which learning related to self-reported attitudes: among participants who relied more on model-free learning, model-free social learning related more to post-task attitudes. We discuss implications for attitudes, trait impressions, and social behavior, as well as the role of habits in a memory systems model of social cognition.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number2592
JournalFrontiers in Psychology
StatePublished - Nov 21 2019


  • attitude
  • cognition
  • computational
  • habit
  • learning
  • model-based
  • model-free
  • social

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Psychology


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