Effects of Problem Schema on Successful Maximizing in Repeated Choices

Jie GaoColumbia Unviersity
James CorterTeachers College, Columbia University

Abstract

We investigate the effects of problem schema type (complementary events versus independent events) on participants’ tendency to adopt probability matching or maximizing strategies across repeated decisions. These two general problem types were compared in an online study (N=300), using a between-subjects design. We also varied abstraction level of the problem story context, using abstract contexts, contexts involving physical randomizing devices, and “real-world” social/pragmatic contexts. Participants made a binary choice on each of 20 trials, receiving trial-by-trial outcome feedback. Maximization was consistently higher for independent events contexts than for complementary, while abstraction level of the context had no significant effect on the prevalence of maximizing behavior. The results support our hypothesis that people may find it especially difficult to discover the maximizing strategy for problems exemplifying the complementary-outcomes schema. In contrast, when the problem involves choosing between two distinct objects or entities (a common instantiation of the independent events schema) it seems to be easier to maximize, perhaps due to cueing of a pragmatic “pick the winner” schema.

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