People adopt optimal policies in simple decision-making, after practice and guidance.

Research paper by Nathan J NJ Evans, Scott D SD Brown

Indexed on: 27 Aug '16Published on: 27 Aug '16Published in: Psychonomic Bulletin & Review


Organisms making repeated simple decisions are faced with a tradeoff between urgent and cautious strategies. While animals can adopt a statistically optimal policy for this tradeoff, findings about human decision-makers have been mixed. Some studies have shown that people can optimize this "speed-accuracy tradeoff", while others have identified a systematic bias towards excessive caution. These issues have driven theoretical development and spurred debate about the nature of human decision-making. We investigated a potential resolution to the debate, based on two factors that routinely differ between human and animal studies of decision-making: the effects of practice, and of longer-term feedback. Our study replicated the finding that most people, by default, are overly cautious. When given both practice and detailed feedback, people moved rapidly towards the optimal policy, with many participants reaching optimality with less than 1 h of practice. Our findings have theoretical implications for cognitive and neural models of simple decision-making, as well as methodological implications.