Markov Chain Monte Carlo with People

Part of Advances in Neural Information Processing Systems 20 (NIPS 2007)

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Adam Sanborn, Thomas Griffiths


Many formal models of cognition implicitly use subjective probability distributions to capture the assumptions of human learners. Most applications of these models determine these distributions indirectly. We propose a method for directly determining the assumptions of human learners by sampling from subjective probability distributions. Using a correspondence between a model of human choice and Markov chain Monte Carlo (MCMC), we describe a method for sampling from the distributions over objects that people associate with different categories. In our task, subjects choose whether to accept or reject a proposed change to an object. The task is constructed so that these decisions follow an MCMC acceptance rule, defining a Markov chain for which the stationary distribution is the category distribution. We test this procedure for both artificial categories acquired in the laboratory, and natural categories acquired from experience.