The development of goal-directed decision-making

Hillary A. Raab, Catherine A. Hartley

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


Throughout our lives, we face the ongoing challenge of discovering which actions are beneficial and which are not. In order to maximize reward and minimize punishment across diverse environments, individuals must learn to flexibly take actions that are likely to yield a desired outcome. This type of “goal-directed” action selection is distinguished from a “habitual” tendency to simply repeat actions that have been rewarded in the past. In this chapter, we adopt a theoretical framework stemming from animal learning theory that distinguishes goal-directed from habitual instrumental action to discuss the development of goal-directed decision-making and the neurocognitive processes that support its use. We begin by describing experimental assays of goal-directed behavior and studies employing these paradigms to examine developmental changes in goal-directed action. We then review the neural circuitry implicated in goal-directed evaluation and action selection and discuss the changes within this circuitry across development. Finally, we discuss how changes in the ability to construct and use cognitive models of one’s environment contribute to developmental improvements in goal-directed decision-making.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationGoal-Directed Decision Making
Subtitle of host publicationComputations and Neural Circuits
Number of pages30
ISBN (Electronic)9780128120989
ISBN (Print)9780128120996
StatePublished - Jan 1 2018


  • Decision-making
  • Development
  • Goal-directed behavior
  • Habit
  • Instrumental learning
  • Neuroscience

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Neuroscience


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