Selecting goals and successfully pursuing them in an uncertain and dynamic environment is an important aspect of human behaviour. In order to decide which goal to pursue at what point in time, one has to evaluate the consequences of one’s actions over future time steps by forward planning. However, when the goal is still temporally distant, detailed forward planning can be prohibitively costly. One way to select actions at minimal computational costs is to use heuristics. It is an open question how humans mix heuristics with forward planning to balance computational costs with goal reaching performance. To test a hypothesis about dynamic mixing of heuristics with forward planning, we used a novel stochastic sequential two-goal task. Comparing participants’ decisions with an optimal full planning agent, we found that at the early stages of goal-reaching sequences, in which both goals are temporally distant, on average 42% (SD = 19%) of participants’ choices deviated from the agent’s optimal choices. Only towards the end of the sequence, participant’s behaviour converged to near optimal performance. Subsequent model-based analyses showed that participants used heuristic preferences when the goal was temporally distant and switched to forward planning, when the goal was close.

This project is open access and publicly accessible.

 

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