Deciding between apples and oranges has been an age-old question not just for hungry shoppers but within the field of decision-making research. However, very rarely have researchers considered the possibility to reject either and move on to the next shelf. I have previously argued that such a sequential decision making framework is not just essential for understanding foraging animals, but also ecological, real life, behaviour in humans1,2. While it is intuitive that real life decision strategies require temporally extended coherent behaviours2 and rely on prospection, maintained motivation and sequential adaptation, those cognitive and neural processes remain poorly understand.
In the first part of my talk I will present our recent cognitive model for sequential search decisions and its underlying neural dynamics3. In the second part I will further expand into another important element of sustained and sequential behaviours, i.e. intrinsic motivation. In particular, I will focus on the circuit fluctuating with motivation to continue pursuing the current task instead of disengaging, showing task general as well as causal evidence. Lastly, I will talk about ongoing work on sequential incremental goal pursuit and how the nature of decision-making changes with goal progress neurally and behaviourally as participants assess whether to give into temptation or frustration.