Academic journal article Memory & Cognition

Probability Matching and Strategy Availability

Academic journal article Memory & Cognition

Probability Matching and Strategy Availability

Article excerpt

Findings from two experiments indicate that probability matching in sequential choice arises from an asymmetry in strategy availability: The matching strategy comes readily to mind, whereas a superior alternative strategy, maximizing, does not. First, compared with the minority who spontaneously engage in maximizing, the majority of participants endorse maximizing as superior to matching in a direct comparison when both strategies are described. Second, when the maximizing strategy is brought to their attention, more participants subsequently engage in maximizing. Third, matchers are more likely than maximizers to base decisions in other tasks on their initial intuitions, suggesting that they are more inclined to use a choice strategy that comes to mind quickly. These results indicate that a substantial subset of probability matchers are victims of "underthinking" rather than "overthinking": They fail to engage in sufficient deliberation to generate a superior alternative to the matching strategy that comes so readily to mind.

When faced with the task of choosing between two possible outcomes that differ in their probability of occurrence, many people match their choice probabilities to the corresponding outcome probabilities (matching) rather than always choosing the outcome with the higher probability (maximizing). For instance, in a task in which Outcome A occurs on 70% of the trials and Outcome B on the other 30%, probability matching involves predicting Outcome A on 70% of trials and B on the other 30%. By contrast, maximizing involves predicting the more likely Outcome A on every trial. Many people engage in matching even though maximizing is associated with a higher rate of predictive accuracy and, when participants are paid for each correct prediction, with a greater expected payoff. For a review of the literature on matching, which dates back to probability learning experiments in the 1950s, see Vulkan (2000).

Recently, researchers have adopted a dual-system approach to the study of probability matching (Kogler & Kuhberger, 2007; West & Stanovich, 2003). Dual-system accounts, particularly of the kind Evans (2008) calls "default interventionist," have become increasingly prevalent in the study of judgment, decision making, and reasoning. Probability matching, by such an account, reflects an intuitive response that arises from the operations of a fast, effortless, heuristic evaluation that could be, but often is not, overridden by a slower, more effortful deliberative assessment identifying maximizing as a superior alternative strategy. Consistent with this account is the finding that individuals who are higher in cognitive ability, and thereby presumably more proficient in deliberative reasoning, are more likely to maximize and less likely to probability match than are those of lower cognitive ability (Stanovich & West, 2008; West & Stanovich, 2003). Furthermore, manipulations that can be interpreted as encouraging deliberation, such as instructing participants to recommend a strategy to another person (Fantino & Esfandiari, 2002) or to think like a statistician (Kogler & Kuhberger, 2007), have been found to increase rates of maximizing behavior.

Koehler and James (2009) offered an elaboration of the dual-system account in which the initial intuition that gives rise to probability matching stems from relatively effortless operations that evaluate relevant outcome probabilities and use them to generate expectations regarding an upcoming sequence of events. Thus, as in the example above, in which Outcome A occurs on 70% of the trials and Outcome B on the other 30%, the intuitive system produces an expectation that, say, A will occur on 7 of the next 10 trials and B on the remaining 3. When faced with the task of determining how to make choices over those next 10 trials, then, the expectation generated by the intuitive system (expect 7 As and 3 Bs) serves as a natural candidate for making choices (predict 7 As and 3 Bs). …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.