Control of movement vigor and decision making during foraging

Tehrim Yoon, Robert B. Geary, Alaa A. Ahmed, Reza Shadmehr

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

21 Scopus citations


During foraging, animals decide how long to stay at a patch and harvest reward, and then, they move with certain vigor to another location. How does the brain decide when to leave, and how does it determine the speed of the ensuing movement? Here, we considered the possibility that both the decision-making and the motor control problems aimed to maximize a single normative utility: The sum of all rewards acquired minus all efforts expended divided by total time. This optimization could be achieved if the brain compared a local measure of utility with its history. To test the theory, we examined behavior of people as they gazed at images: They chose how long to look at the image (harvesting information) and then moved their eyes to another image, controlling saccade speed. We varied reward via image content and effort via image eccentricity, and then, we measured how these changes affected decision making (gaze duration) and motor control (saccade speed). After a history of low rewards, people increased gaze duration and decreased saccade speed. In anticipation of future effort, they lowered saccade speed and increased gaze duration. After a history of high effort, they elevated their saccade speed and increased gaze duration. Therefore, the theory presented a principled way with which the brain may control two aspects of behavior: movement speed and harvest duration. Our experiments confirmed many (but not all) of the predictions, suggesting that harvest duration and movement speed, fundamental aspects of behavior during foraging, may be governed by a shared principle of control.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)E10476-E10485
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number44
StatePublished - Oct 30 2018


  • Decision making
  • Foraging
  • Motor control
  • Theoretical neuroscience
  • Vigor

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General


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