Archival Report| Volume 5, ISSUE 6, P601-609, June 2020

Improving the Reliability of Computational Analyses: Model-Based Planning and Its Relationship With Compulsivity

Published:January 13, 2020DOI:



      Computational models show great promise in mapping latent decision-making processes onto dissociable neural substrates and clinical phenotypes. One prominent example in reinforcement learning is model-based planning, which specifically relates to transdiagnostic compulsivity. However, the reliability of computational model-derived measures such as model-based planning is unclear. Establishing reliability is necessary to ensure that such models measure stable, traitlike processes, as assumed in computational psychiatry. Although analysis approaches affect validity of reinforcement learning models and reliability of other task-based measures, their effect on reliability of reinforcement learning models of empirical data has not been systematically studied.


      We first assessed within- and across-session reliability and effects of analysis approaches (model estimation, parameterization, and data cleaning) of measures of model-based planning in patients with compulsive disorders (n = 38). The analysis approaches affecting test-retest reliability were tested in 3 large generalization samples (healthy participants: n = 541 and 111; people with a range of compulsivity: n = 1413).


      Analysis approaches greatly influenced reliability: reliability of model-based planning measures ranged from 0 (no concordance) to above 0.9 (acceptable for clinical applications). The largest influence on reliability was whether model-estimation approaches were robust and accounted for the hierarchical structure of estimated parameters. Improvements in reliability generalized to other datasets and greatly reduced the sample size needed to find a relationship between model-based planning and compulsivity in an independent dataset.


      These results indicate that computational psychiatry measures such as model-based planning can reliably measure latent decision-making processes, but when doing so must assess the ability of methods to estimate complex models from limited data.


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