?

Log in

No account? Create an account
On Decisions, Closing Doors, and Hedons - Synchronicity swirls and other foolishness

> Recent Entries
> Archive
> Friends
> Profile
> my rpg writing site

March 1st, 2008


Previous Entry Share Next Entry
05:43 pm - On Decisions, Closing Doors, and Hedons
andrewducker linked to this interesting NYT article on choices and decisions . In the study, MIT students
played a computer game that paid real cash to look for money behind three doors on the screen. (You can play it yourself, without pay, at tierneylab.blogs.nytimes.com.) After they opened a door by clicking on it, each subsequent click earned a little money, with the sum varying each time.

As each player went through the 100 allotted clicks, he could switch rooms to search for higher payoffs, but each switch used up a click to open the new door. The best strategy was to quickly check out the three rooms and settle in the one with the highest rewards.

Even after students got the hang of the game by practicing it, they were flummoxed when a new visual feature was introduced. If they stayed out of any room, its door would start shrinking and eventually disappear.

They should have ignored those disappearing doors, but the students couldn’t. They wasted so many clicks rushing back to reopen doors that their earnings dropped 15 percent. Even when the penalties for switching grew stiffer — besides losing a click, the players had to pay a cash fee — the students kept losing money by frantically keeping all their doors open.
There are some studies that I've read, especially some of the ones relating to fairness and exchange , where the behavior of people in the study makes perfect sense to me. This is not one of those studies. Instead, I remain completely baffled by the results. In vaguely similar situations, my behavior is fairly uniform – I check all possible options once, and if there is an obviously superior option, I stick with it, and perhaps go back once to check and see if the other options have no changed, if they haven't, then I completely ignore them.

In situations with uncertain reward or where reward is balanced by some negative consequences (such as perhaps a restaurant or bar with excellent food or drinks, but music that is always far too loud), I can easily be indecisive. However, in the case of known options, I find being decisive about as difficult and complex as breathing, and once I've decided and the decision seems obvious sound, the other options vanishing is utterly irrelevant.

One of the ways I think about many situations is using a term a friend of mine (Mike) back in Madison WI came up with – "the Hedon". According to Mike's definition, a Hedon was defined as the unit of pleasure found in 1 plain M&M. Mike maintained (rather jokingly) that all sources of pleasure could be evaluation according to how many hedons they provided and the sensible choice was to always choose the options that maximized your hedons.

This was 20 years ago, and I still use this term, because it's exceptionally useful. Choices that maximize (in both the short and, at least the medium term) hedons are good choices, and those that do not are irrelevant.

In any case, I'm deeply puzzled by the above study, because I simply do not understand how people could think this way. Perhaps the reason is that I'm somewhat lazier than many people I know and quite comfortable with this fact, but ultimately I remain puzzled.
Current Mood: lazylazy

(6 comments | Leave a comment)

Comments:


[User Picture]
From:frater_treinta
Date:March 2nd, 2008 03:06 am (UTC)
(Link)
*sigh* I declare the experiment a bust, and move for the results to be thrown out.

This proves nothing about decision making. Only that if you take people who have played video games all their life and present them with a game that can simulate whack-a-mole, their instincts will cause them to play whack-a-mole.
[User Picture]
From:mindstalk
Date:March 2nd, 2008 06:57 am (UTC)
(Link)
It was hardly clear to me that the door strategies would remain constant over time, or that a few clicks had sufficed to discern the relative worths. I was willing eventually to let other doors disappear, but it's a pretty low-information problem, which implies a high value of exploration -- getting more information -- and thus of keeping open the option of getting more information.

I gave up on doors that started really high but shrank in value, but it was only a bet on my part that they wouldn't go up again. Maybe the number after 10 would have been 150...
[User Picture]
From:mindstalk
Date:March 2nd, 2008 07:02 am (UTC)
(Link)
And, as a general strategy for coping in the real world: heavy exploitation of one big thing may be likely to exhaust it. Specialization to a niche leads to extinction when the niche changes; generalism and diversity leads to survival. Why don't we put all our money into the top-performing stock?
[User Picture]
From:charlequin
Date:March 2nd, 2008 09:53 pm (UTC)
(Link)
It was hardly clear to me that the door strategies would remain constant over time, or that a few clicks had sufficed to discern the relative worths. I was willing eventually to let other doors disappear, but it's a pretty low-information problem, which implies a high value of exploration -- getting more information -- and thus of keeping open the option of getting more information.

Right. The amount of information needed to make revokable estimates of each door's worth is low, but the amount needed to make permanent and unrevokable estimates is high. If the parameters of the game are such that you get locked in quickly (say, you're allotted 100 clicks and doors disappear after 20) it's a reasonable strategy to sacrifice your overall gains in order to avoid a situation where your locked-in choice plummets in value. (This isn't wildly dissimilar to the approach behind most diversified investment strategies.)

If you don't get locked in quickly, it's still not unreasonable to view the behavior as stemming from this relatively reasonable instinct (maintain options), simply applied in a sub-ideal fashion.
[User Picture]
From:charlequin
Date:March 2nd, 2008 10:00 pm (UTC)
(Link)
Yeah. Out of 100 clicks, the doors vanish in 10, meaning you're quickly locked into the choice you select. Ignoring the doors requires you to accept the premise that each door will produce points using a fixed distribution that will not change during the course of play -- which in turn means assuming that the information you're given by test administrators is accurate, which is generally not a safe assumption when participating in a psychological study.

I don't disagree with the premise that people regularly make "irrational" decisions, but I don't think this game really demonstrates that people are choosing "badly" unless you accept the false premise that the information they're given by the test administrators is inherently reliable.
[User Picture]
From:rjgrady
Date:March 2nd, 2008 11:32 pm (UTC)
(Link)
Simple explanation: The subjects' strategy was rational. You assume that the rewards won't change. There is no rational basis for that assumption. Hence, a 15% loss of earnings is paltry compared to the potential loss of much greater rewards.

Just as an example, potatoes were the "best" crop for Ireland. Then the potato blight hit. Oops.

Dot.coms, investing your 401K in your own employer's stock, heavy mortgages, penicillin, the list goes on. It is almost always better to accept a moderate loss than to completely lose an option.

A similar puzzle explains why housing insurance is rational for both the home buyer and the insurer. The home buyer accepts an overall loss, but mitigates a life changing loss. The insurer bets on the numbers in the long run, since their gains or losses are simply profit.

> Go to Top
LiveJournal.com