Human Cognition Talk: The successes and failures of human drives

Even in the absence of external rewards, we have internal motives that drive us to act, learn, and explore. At their best, intrinsic drives motivate us to expand our boundaries and lead us to wonderful discoveries. At their worst, they lead us into a cycle of never-ending wants and desires, causing havoc on our mental and environmental health. This talk explores both the strengths and shortcomings of human drives. First, I will examine cases where our drives lead us to success, which is most prominent in our pursuit of science. I will present a rational model that explains a wide range of findings about human curiosity and I will present a computational account of Aha! moments that provide an explanation for why Aha! moments feel so rewarding. Next, I will examine scenarios where our drives lead us astray, which is most prominent in the case of overconsumption and climate change. Using the idea of reward design from the machine learning literature, I will show that although the human desire to keep wanting more leads to unhappiness and overconsumption, it nevertheless plays an important role in promoting adaptive behavior and might be a deeply rooted bias of the human mind. I will conclude by showing how insights about intrinsic drives can be leveraged to promote sustainable behavior and drive action on climate change. Together, this work combines multiple methodologies, including computational cognitive models, large-scale behavioral experiments, and real-world field studies to provide new insights about our intrinsic drives and suggests novel ways to guide them.

Event Type: 
Berkeley Way West
Wednesday, February 1, 2023
Event Sponsor: 
Psychology, Department of
Event Speakers: 
Rachit Dubey