Visual extrapolation under risk: Human observers estimate and compensate for exogenous uncertainty

Paul A. Warren, Erich W. Graf, Rebecca A. Champion, Laurence T. Maloney

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Humans commonly face choices between multiple options with uncertain outcomes. Such situations occur in many contexts, from purely financial decisions (which shares should I buy?) to perceptuo-motor decisions between different actions (where should I aim my shot at goal?). Regardless of context, successful decision-making requires that the uncertainty at the heart of the decision-making problem is taken into account. Here, we ask whether humans can recover an estimate of exogenous uncertainty and then use it to make good decisions. Observers viewed a small dot that moved erratically until it disappeared behind an occluder. We varied the size of the occluder and the unpredictability of the dot's path. The observer attempted to capture the dot as it emerged from behind the occluded region by setting the location and extent of a 'catcher' along the edge of the occluder. The reward for successfully catching the dot was reduced as the size of the catcher increased. We compared human performance with that of an agent maximizing expected gain and found that observers consistently selected catcher size close to this theoretical solution. These results suggest that humans are finely tuned to exogenous uncertainty information and can exploit it to guide action.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2171-2179
Number of pages9
JournalProceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Issue number1736
StatePublished - Jun 7 2012


  • Cue combination
  • Decision under risk
  • Exogenous uncertainty
  • Maximum expected gain
  • Motion extrapolation
  • Statistical approaches

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology
  • General Immunology and Microbiology
  • General Environmental Science
  • General Agricultural and Biological Sciences


Dive into the research topics of 'Visual extrapolation under risk: Human observers estimate and compensate for exogenous uncertainty'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this