Department of Physics Papers

Document Type

Conference Paper

Date of this Version


Embargo Date

October 2022

Publication Source

1st International Advanced Course & Symposium on Artificial Intelligence & Neuroscience – ACAIN 2021




Occam’s razor is the principle stating that, all else being equal, simpler explanations for a set of observations are to be preferred to more complex ones. This idea can be made precise in the context of statistical inference, where the same quantitative notion of complexity of a statistical model emerges naturally from different approaches based on Bayesian model selection and information theory. The broad applicability of this mathematical formulation suggests a normative model of decision-making under uncertainty: complex explanations should be penalized according to this common measure of complexity. However, little is known about if and how humans intuitively quantify the relative complexity of competing interpretations of noisy data. Here we measure the sensitivity of naive human subjects to statistical model complexity. Our data show that human subjects bias their decisions in favor of simple explanations based not only on the dimensionality of the alternatives (number of model parameters), but also on finer-grained aspects of their geometry. In particular, as predicted by the theory, models intuitively judged as more complex are not only those with more parameters, but also those with larger volume and prominent curvature or boundaries. Our results imply that principled notions of statistical model complexity have direct quantitative relevance to human decision-making.


bayesian statistics, cognitive neuroscience, complexity, decision making, psychophysics, information geometry, statistical model selection



Date Posted: 22 November 2022

This document has been peer reviewed.