Balancing exploration and exploitation with information and randomization

Robert C. Wilson, Elizabeth Bonawitz, Vincent D. Costa, R. Becket Ebitz

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

84 Scopus citations


Explore-exploit decisions require us to trade off the benefits of exploring unknown options to learn more about them, with exploiting known options, for immediate reward. Such decisions are ubiquitous in nature, but from a computational perspective, they are notoriously hard. There is therefore much interest in how humans and animals make these decisions and recently there has been an explosion of research in this area. Here we provide a biased and incomplete snapshot of this field focusing on the major finding that many organisms use two distinct strategies to solve the explore-exploit dilemma: a bias for information (‘directed exploration’) and the randomization of choice (‘random exploration’). We review evidence for the existence of these strategies, their computational properties, their neural implementations, as well as how directed and random exploration vary over the lifespan. We conclude by highlighting open questions in this field that are ripe to both explore and exploit.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)49-56
Number of pages8
JournalCurrent Opinion in Behavioral Sciences
StatePublished - Apr 2021

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cognitive Neuroscience
  • Psychiatry and Mental health
  • Behavioral Neuroscience


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