Moving beyond qualitative evaluations of Bayesian models of cognition

Pernille Hemmer, Sean Tauber, Mark Steyvers

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

15 Scopus citations


Bayesian models of cognition provide a powerful way to understand the behavior and goals of individuals from a computational point of view. Much of the focus in the Bayesian cognitive modeling approach has been on qualitative model evaluations, where predictions from the models are compared to data that is often averaged over individuals. In many cognitive tasks, however, there are pervasive individual differences. We introduce an approach to directly infer individual differences related to subjective mental representations within the framework of Bayesian models of cognition. In this approach, Bayesian data analysis methods are used to estimate cognitive parameters and motivate the inference process within a Bayesian cognitive model. We illustrate this integrative Bayesian approach on a model of memory. We apply the model to behavioral data from a memory experiment involving the recall of heights of people. A cross-validation analysis shows that the Bayesian memory model with inferred subjective priors predicts withheld data better than a Bayesian model where the priors are based on environmental statistics. In addition, the model with inferred priors at the individual subject level led to the best overall generalization performance, suggesting that individual differences are important to consider in Bayesian models of cognition.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)614-628
Number of pages15
JournalPsychonomic Bulletin and Review
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jun 1 2015

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)


  • Bayesian data analysis
  • Bayesian models of cognition
  • Episodic memory
  • Individual differences


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