Judgment and Decision Making, vol. 1, no. 1, July 2006, pp. 76-85.
The effects of behavioral and outcome feedback on prudent
decision-making under conditions of present and future
Jay C. Brown1
Department of Psychology
Texas Wesleyan University
One of the largest reasons decision-makers make bad decisions (act
imprudently) is that the world is full of uncertainty, we feel
uncertain about the consequences of our actions. Participants played a
repeated game in which decisions were made under various types of
uncertainty (either no uncertainty, uncertainty about the present
consequences of behaviors, uncertainty about the future consequences of
behavior, or both types of uncertainty). The game required prudent
decision making for success. While playing the game one of three types
of feedback was placed between trials, either no feedback, behavioral
feedback, or behavioral plus outcome feedback. Prudent decision-making
decreased when both types of uncertainty were added. Further, the
addition of feedback increased prudent decision-making when future
uncertainty was present. The increase in prudent decisions appears to
be from feedback's ability to allow us to create probabilities
associated with behaviors and their consequences, implying that
anything that reduces the uncertainty people feel in a world full of
uncertainty will increase their ability to make prudent decisions.
Keywords: uncertainty, decision-making, feedback, prudence, human
Nearly every imprudent behavior (unhealthy, risky or dangerous), such as
drug use, unprotected sex, smoking or gambling can be thought of as the
result of an inability to properly weigh future consequences against
current pleasures (Rachlin, 1997). Usually, these types of behaviors
lead to pleasure today at the expense of pain tomorrow. As long as
these imprudent behaviors are chosen only occasionally, they probably
will not interfere with our ability to function as productive members
of society. However, at some point these poor choices can come to
dominate a person's life and lead to negative long-term consequences.
Prudent decision-making can be thought of as decision-making driven by
long-term consequences rather than immediate outcomes.
The consequences of our decisions can fall on others or they can fall to
ourselves. In decisions involving social interactions, the consequences
of my good or bad behavior are felt by others. If I am rude, others
will suffer. If I am considerate, others will benefit. In decisions
involving self-interactions, the consequences of my good or bad
behavior are felt by myself. If I, in the present, choose to save or
spend money today, my future self is the beneficiary or victim of a
larger or smaller savings account. Brown and Rachlin (1999) showed that
these two decision-making situations are treated similarly by the
individual. Our social interactions can be thought of as a competition
between us and them; our self-interactions can be thought of as a
competition between our present-self and our future-self (see also
Rachlin, Brown, & Baker, 2001).
In a single-player iterated decision making situation, a player's
present self (trial N) is in competition with the player's
future self (trial N + 1). One type of game in which this
competition with the self is studied is prisoner's dilemma games in
which a human player plays against a dummy opponent that is programmed
to play the game using a tit-for-tat strategy (the dummy player's
choices mirror the human player's choices). In these single player
prisoner's dilemma games a conflict exists between maximization of
local and global reinforcement (Yi & Rachlin, 2004). Choices which
maximally benefit the present self often harm the future self
(imprudent options) and choices which maximally benefit the future self
are usually undesirable to the present self (prudent options). Even
though both "players" are the same person, it may be difficult for
individuals to make effective choices here because both the present and
future consequences of decisions are rarely set in stone. The college
student which forgoes the party in favor of studying will usually
receive less utility during the night of studying than they could have
received from the party, but usually will maximize long-term utility in
the form of better grades and etc. If a player chooses selfishly
(imprudently) on trial N, he or she will usually benefit on
trial N, the consequences of the imprudent behavior from trial
N (if indeed there are any) are not felt until trial
N + 1. Similarly, if a player chooses wisely (prudently) on
trial N, he or she will usually suffer on trial N,
any possible benefits for the prudent behavior on trial N will
not be felt until trial N + 1. (Brown & Rachlin, 1999; Green,
Price & Hamburger, 1995). It may be argued however, that a game such
as this is not a game of self-control but rather an issue of cognitive
impulsiveness, an overwhelming of the individual by the immediate
consequences such that long-term consequences are never seen or
considered (Herrnstein, Loewenstein, Prelec, & Vaughn, 1993).
The uncertainty of the situation helps to determine our behavior in
social-interactions: We will be "nice" to others in a
social-interaction only if we feel that others will be "nice" back
(Baker & Rachlin, 2001; Chaudhuri, Sopher, & Strand, 2002; Rachlin,
Brown, & Baker, 2001). That is, if we feel there is an uncertainty
about whether the other person in a social-interaction will reciprocate
our kindness, we will not be kind to begin with. The same rule of
uncertainty also controls our self-behaviors (Brown & Lovett, 2001).
It is as if the presence of uncertainty provides justification (or
possibly an excuse) for imprudent behavior (Schweitzer & Hsee, 2002).
In most self-interactions we must choose between long-term and prudent
decisions (larger rewards in the long-run, but smaller rewards at the
moment) and short-term and imprudent decisions (larger rewards at the
present moment, but smaller rewards in the long-run); however, there is
bound to be uncertainty on the part of the decision maker. The
uncertainty in this type of decision-making generally fits the
following pattern: short-term outcomes are often somewhat predictable
(though not always), but long-term outcomes are usually less
predictable. For a smoker contemplating quitting, there is a general
level of understanding of the consequences of not smoking today (i.e.,
withdrawal symptoms, but the severity is unknown). However, the
consequences of quitting smoking in the long-run are very uncertain
(maybe they will experience better health, maybe not). In an experiment
by Bendor, Kramer and Stout (1991), computers were programmed to play
against each other in a prisoner's dilemma game. Each computer was
programmed with various strategies for play. Levels of cooperation were
quite high when playing against a tit-for-tat opponent and when random
uncertainty (noise) was added to the tit-for-tat strategy, cooperation
by the opponent decreased dramatically. In real life, this type of
uncertainty of consequences may also be responsible for decreased
levels of prudent decision-making. If this uncertainty (which is
inherent in the real world) could be reduced then the number of prudent
decisions people make should increase.
When faced with an uncertain world, people must calculate some mental
probabilities about the consequences of possible actions. In order to
properly assess the future consequences of behavior, decision-makers
should ideally look to the past. That is, decision makers should
ultimately ask themselves, in the past, when in a similar situation,
how many times did I choose option A and how many times did I choose
option B and further, what were the outcomes when I did choose A and
when I did choose B. Obviously, decision-makers do not do this for a
variety of reasons including the amount of (cognitive) effort involved
and the fact that their memories are less than perfect. In cases of
uncertainty, a decision-maker may operate using some average values
which describe the range of possible probabilities involved. Given this
possibility, however, if people's memories could be stimulated (through
feedback about past actions and consequences), then their ability to
estimate probabilities for future choices should improve and thus their
prudent decision-making should increase (Harvey & Fischer, 2005;
Schweitzer & Hsee, 2002).
Figure 1: A single player choice game with short-term and
long-term consequences. In this game, the top doors are red and the
bottom doors are green.
I hypothesize that the addition of both Present-Uncertainty and Future-
Uncertainty will decrease participants' ability to exhibit prudent
decision-making (make correct choices). I also hypothesize that
feedback about our past behaviors and the consequences of these
behaviors will leave us better able to understand the uncertainty
inherent in the decision-making process and thus increase our ability
to exhibit prudent decisions (make the right choices). In this
experiment, people were asked to make 200 two-option choices in a
computer game designed to measure prudent decision-making. The present
and future consequences of decisions were made either certain or
uncertain by modifying probabilities of outcomes of different aspects
of the game. Additionally, following each choice, people were either
given No Feedback, feedback about their past behaviors (Behavioral
Feedback), or feedback about their past behaviors and the outcomes of
those behaviors (Behavioral/Outcome Feedback). These manipulations
created a 2 X 2 X 3 (Present-Uncertainty X Future-Uncertainty X
Feedback) design. I hypothesize that both Present-Uncertainty and
Future-Uncertainty built into the game will decrease people's ability
to exhibit prudent decision-making compared to a control condition with
no uncertainty (perfect predictability) since increasing uncertainty
seems to lead to decreased prudent decision-making in real life
situations2. I also hypothesize an interaction
between Present-Uncertainty and Future-Uncertainty such that the
addition of both Present/Future-Uncertainty will decrease prudent
decision-making further than either type of uncertainty alone. Further,
I hypothesize that as the amount of feedback increases (No Feedback,
Behavioral Feedback, Behavioral/Outcome Feedback) people's ability to
exhibit prudent decisions will also rise due to feedback's ability to
remind people about past behaviors and/or consequences, thus helping
them to better understand probability.
Three-hundred undergraduate volunteers (166 females and 134 males) from
an undergraduate participant pool at Missouri State University
participated in this experiment. All participants were treated in
accordance with the ethical standards of the American Psychological
2.2 Apparatus and Procedure
Participants made decisions between the options in a game containing
short-term and long term consequences by pressing buttons on the
screens using a standard two-button mouse. The computer game was
written using Microsoft Visual Basic.
Prior to experimentation, informed consent was given and all responses
were kept fully confidential. Participants were first asked a series of
demographic questions and a series of questions designed to assess
behavioral self-control (ability to make prudent decisions in the real
world) from external sources (including things such as smoking and
alcohol consumption behavior). It was through the use of these types of
questions that the procedure to be described was validated in earlier
research. At the conclusion of the game participants were asked to
estimate the probabilities of various aspects of the game (keys and
points to be described).
General Rules of the Game. During the main portion of the
experiment, participants played a computer game which was designed to
simulate the decisions containing short-term and long-term consequences
we make every day and was similar to a single player prisoner's dilemma
game played against a dummy player using a tit-for-tat strategy
(Bendor, Kramer & Stout, 1991). Participants were asked to make a
series of decisions involving keys and doors on the game board shown in
Figure 1. The rules of the game shown are quite simple.
If the participant possesses the red key, he/she can choose between 4
points and 5 points. If the participant possesses a green key, he/she
can choose between 1 point and 2 points. Using this basic paradigm,
four different versions were created (Control, Present-Uncertain,
Future-Uncertain, and Present/Future-Uncertain). Each participant saw
only one of these versions.
Control Version. In the control version of this game, behavior
was deterministic. That is, choice for the smaller option (1 or 4)
always yielded a red key which could be used on the next trial, and
choice for the larger option (2 or 5) always yielded a green key. These
new keys appeared only after participants had made a choice using the
old key. On every individual trial, it was better to choose the larger
points (better short-term consequences), but it was MUCH better in the
long-run to have red keys which could only be obtained by choosing the
smaller points (better long-term consequences). These two goals are not
compatible. The solution to this game is quite simple: Always choose
the red door with the smaller number of points, always receive 4 points
(which is pretty good!) and always receive a red key (which is very
good). Successful participants must bypass the temptation of short-term
consequences during every single trial. Prudent decision-making is
measured in this game as the percent of trials (there are 200 total) in
which participants choose the left-side doors (both have the smaller
present points, but yield the red key).
Present-Uncertain and Future-Uncertain Versions. In the
control version of the game, from 1 to 5 points was received after
every choice (present or short-term consequences) and red keys were
given for every left side choice and green keys were given for every
right side choice (future or long-term consequences). In order to make
a Present-Uncertain version, the points were made uncertain (not always
received). In order to make a Future-Uncertain version, the keys were
made uncertain (not always the same color for the same choice). The
computer program had correction factors built into the probability
generating mechanism such that the obtained probabilities reflected
programmed probabilities both locally (extreme strings were eliminated)
and globally (obtained probabilities were kept within 5% of the
As described earlier, upon choosing the top left door in the control
version of the game participants always received 4 points (5 points
after choosing top right, 1 point after bottom left, 2 points bottom
right). In the Present-Uncertain version of the game, 5 points were
showing in each of the left boxes and 7 points were showing in each of
the right boxes. Upon choosing the top left door in the
Present-Uncertain version, there was an 80% chance that the player
would receive the 5 points and a 20% chance that a message would
appear which read, "Sorry, you do not receive any points this time".
This led to an average payout of 4 points (5 *.80) for each top left
choice. Upon choosing the top right door in the Present-Uncertain
version, there was a 71.43% chance that the player would receive the 7
points and a 28.57% chance that the sorry message would appear
(average 5 points). Upon choosing the bottom left door there was a 20%
chance that the player would receive the 5 points (average 1 point).
Upon choosing the bottom right door there was a 28.57% chance that the
player would receive the 7 points (average 2 points). The average
payouts were exactly the same as the control version (that is, the
expected value of each of the choices was held constant between the
Control and Uncertain-Present version).
As described already, the participant did not know which key would be
received until after a choice had been made. When opening a
door on the left side, participants playing the Future-Uncertain
version received the red key 75% of the time (and therefore, a green
key 25% of the time). The probability of receiving a green key after
choosing a door on the right side was also 75% (with a 25% chance of
receiving a red key). This manipulation of keys led to expected values
in the Control and Future-Uncertain groups which were not constant.
Adding Feedback. Following each trial, a text box appeared on
the screen. This text box contained different things for each of the
feedback conditions. For the No Feedback versions of the game, the text
box simply contained the words, "Click OK to continue" and 1 s later,
a button appeared which would present the next trial. For the
Behavioral Feedback version, the text box contained the following "You
picked the Top Left/Top Right/Bottom Left/Bottom Right door X times".
This line only contained the door just chosen and X was replaced with
the number of times the door had been chosen up to that point in the
experiment. This text was again followed 1 s later by a button which,
when clicked, presented the next trial. For the Behavioral/Outcome
Feedback version, the text box contained the same words as the
Behavioral Feedback, but also contained the following "....and
received the red key X times and the green key Y times". Again, this
was followed 1 s later by a button which continued the game.
Participants received only one type of feedback throughout the game.
- Participants are given a red key to begin the game.
- Red keys open red doors and green keys open green doors (the top
two doors are red, the bottom two doors are green).
- When a door is opened, the key which was used is given up.
- When a door is opened, the participant may receive the points
shown and he/she will receive a new key (red or green).
- The game will be reset and more choices will be made using the new
key received (the game will be played many times).
- The goal is to make as many points as possible.
3 Results and discussion
3.1 Control group and basic comparisons
Control Group. Overall, the control group
(No-Uncertainty and No-Feedback) exhibited prudent
decision-making (control by long-term rather than immediate
consequences) by choosing doors on the left side of the game on
nearly every trial (M = 94.7%). This prudent decision-making
increased as the game progressed (M = 85.6% during trials
1-50; M = 96.4% during trials 51-100; M = 98% during trials
101-150; and M = 98.8trials 151-200). As can be seen, with no uncertainty and no
feedback, the game is quite easy for participants to "solve",
that is, participants are driven by long-term consequences quite
readily in the face of a perfectly predictable
Basic Comparisons with No Feedback. A one-way between
subjects ANOVA run on participants in the four different
conditions, testing only those participants who received No
Feedback, revealed that these groups significantly differed,
F(3, 96) = 165.67, p < .001, MS = 1.49. A priori
contrasts revealed that the No-Uncertainty group (94.7%)
exhibited significantly higher levels of prudent decision-making
than the Present-Uncertainty group (48.2%), t(96) = 14.98, p < .001, or the Future-Uncertainty group (55.1%), t(96) = 17.55, p < .001. Additionally, the Present/Future-Uncertainty
group (40.5%) exhibited significantly lower levels of prudent
decision-making than the average of the Present-Uncertainty and
Future-Uncertainty groups, t(96) = -4.81, p < .001. These
findings support the basic predictions that the addition of
present or future uncertainty will decrease prudent
decision-making and that the addition of both types of
uncertainty will decrease prudent decision making even further.
Table 1: Results from 2 X 2 X 3 (Present-Uncertainty X Future-Uncertainty
X Feedback) Omnibus ANOVA
| ||Statistic |
Source ||df ||MS ||F ||p |
Uncertain Present (UP) || 1 ||5.271 ||554.95 ||.000|
|Uncertain Future (UF) || 1 ||2.614 ||275.25 ||.000|
|Feedback (F) || 2 ||0.203 ||21.38 ||.000|
|UP X UF || 1 ||0.698 ||73.53 ||.000|
|UP X F || 2 ||0.038 || 3.97 ||.020|
|UF X F || 2 ||0.054 || 5.65 ||.004|
|UP X UF X F || 2 ||0.090 || 9.46 ||.000|
|Error ||288 ||0.009 |
3.2 Experimental groups
A 2 X 2 X 3 (Present-Uncertainty X Future-Uncertainty X Feedback)
between-subjects analysis of variance on the amount of prudent
decisions exhibited by the participants in the game was
performed. As can be seen in Table 1, every effect was
significant, most notably the interaction of Present-Uncertainty
X Future-Uncertainty, F(1, 288) = 73.53, p < .001. Because of
this interaction, separate analyses were performed for each
combination of present and future uncertainty (No-Uncertainty,
Present-Uncertainty, Future-Uncertainty, and
Present/Future-Uncertainty). A summary of the findings of these
analyses can be seen in Figure 2 which displays prudent
decision-making during the final Fifty-trial block of the
Figure 2: Prudent decision-making exhibited by the Control (C),
Uncertain-Present (UP), Uncertain-Future (UF), and
Uncertain-Present/Future (UPF) groups during the final Fifty-trial
block of the experiment. Numbers shown are the means.
No-Uncertainty Groups. As can be seen in Figure 3, at least
initially, the addition of Behavioral Feedback and Behavioral/Outcome
Feedback actually hurt these participants' ability to exhibit prudent
decisions (perhaps the task was so easy that the feedback confused
them). However, these initial differences seen during the first and
second fifty trials virtually disappeared as the experiment progressed.
A 3 X 4 (Feedback X Fifty-Trial Block) mixed-factor analysis of
variance was performed on the proportion of the responses which were
made on the left side of the game board (prudent decision) for the
groups with No-Uncertainty (see Table 2).
Figure 3: Prudent decision-making exhibited by the
No-Uncertainty groups across Fifty-Trial Blocks of the experiment.
Table 2: Results from 3 X 4 (feedback x fifty-trial block) ANOVA's.
One-way analyses of variance were performed on the mistakes that
participants made in estimating the key and point outcomes. Mistakes in
estimation for points were measured by the absolute difference between
the actual percent of times the points were received from a door and
the estimated percent of time points were received from a door was
calculated for each of the four doors separately. These differences
were simply averaged together to create a measure of error in
predicting points. A measure of error in predicting keys was calculated
in a similar manner. There was no difference in errors in estimating
points between the different feedback groups. Similarly, there was no
difference in errors estimating keys between the different feedback
groups. This lack of findings is not particularly surprising or
enlightening since the majority of participants in the No-Uncertainty
groups were perfectly accurate in estimating both keys and doors (they
were all at unity for these groups).
Present-Uncertainty Groups. As can be seen in Figure 4,
there is a general rise in prudent decision-making throughout the
experiment for all groups. Behavioral Feedback is generally
higher than No Feedback which is generally higher than
Behavioral/Outcome Feedback. A 3 X 4 (Feedback X Fifty-Trial
Block) mixed-factor analysis of variance was performed on the
proportion of the responses which were made on the left side of
the game board (prudent decisions) for the groups with
Present-Uncertainty (see Table 2). The overall number of prudent
decisions made by people receiving No Feedback (48.2%),
Behavioral Feedback (55.7%), and Behavioral/Outcome Feedback
(51.8%) did not significantly differ. The number of prudent
decisions across the Fifty-Trial Blocks of the experiment
(45.3%, 50.6%, 52.8%, 58.8%) significantly differed. A trend
analysis revealed a significant linear trend, F(1, 72) = 32.07,
p < .001. Though it appears as though neither type of feedback
is enough to increase prudent decisions when the short-term
consequences of our actions are uncertain (Present-Uncertain),
considerable experience (by the final Fifty-Trial Block) can
increase prudent decision-making.
Figure 4: Prudent decision-making exhibited by the
Present-Uncertainty groups across Fifty-Trial Blocks of the experiment.
One-way analyses of variance were performed on the mistakes that
participants made in estimating the key and point outcomes. There was
no difference in errors in estimating points or keys between the
different feedback groups. This finding is somewhat expected given the
results from the prudent decision making described above (namely that
feedback did not seem to effect prudent decision-making for the
Present-Uncertainty groups). The addition of feedback did not seem to
benefit the participants' understanding of the contingencies present.
Figure 5: Prudent decision-making exhibited by the
Future-Uncertainty groups across Fifty-Trial Blocks of the experiment.
Future-Uncertainty Groups. As shown in Figure 5, the number of
prudent decisions rose for all groups as the experiment progressed.
Also, it can be seen that, other than the first block, the order of the
feedback groups from least to most prudent decisions is No Feedback,
Behavioral Feedback, Behavioral/Outcome Feedback. A 3 X 4 (Feedback X
Fifty-Trial Block) mixed-factor analysis of variance was performed on
the proportion of the responses which were made on the left side of the
game board (prudent decisions) for the groups with Future-Uncertainty
(see Table 2). The overall number of prudent decisions made by people
receiving No Feedback (55.1%), Behavioral Feedback (57.1%), and
Behavioral/Outcome Feedback (70.0%) significantly differed.
A priori contrasts revealed that the addition of
Behavioral/Outcome Feedback significantly increased prudent
decision-making over No Feedback or Behavioral Feedback, but
Behavioral Feedback did not significantly increase prudent
decision-making over No Feedback. The number of prudent decisions
across the Fifty-Trial blocks of the experiment (46.3%, 60.1%,
66.1%, 70.3%) significantly differed. A trend analysis revealed
a significant linear trend, F(1, 72) = 61.71, p < .001. It
appears that when the long-term consequences of our actions are
uncertain (Future-Uncertain) two conclusions can be drawn. First,
we can definitely benefit (prudent decisions increase) from
experience and second, feedback must include both past behaviors
and outcomes in order to be effective.
One-way analyses of variance were performed on the mistakes that
participants made in estimating the key and point outcomes. As
expected, there was no significant difference in point errors
based on type of feedback. However, the No Feedback (15.1%) and
Behavioral Feedback (16.7%) groups made significantly more
mistakes in estimating the keys than the Behavioral/Outcome
Feedback group (9.6%), F(2, 72) = 4.78, p < .05. The
addition of Behavioral/Outcome Feedback seemed to benefit prudent
decision making (described in previous paragraph) by increasing
participants' understanding of the contingencies present.
Present/Future-Uncertainty Groups. As can be seen in Figure 6,
there is virtually no change in prudent decisions across the experiment
for either the No Feedback or Behavioral Feedback groups, but there is
a rise for the Behavioral/Outcome Feedback group. A 3 X 4 (Feedback X
Fifty-Trial Block) mixed-factor analysis of variance was performed on
the proportion of the responses which were made on the left side of the
game board (prudent decisions) for the groups with
Present/Future-Uncertainty (see Table 2). A significant Feedback X
Fifty-Trial Block interaction was revealed. When the world is very
difficult to predict (Present/Future-Uncertain) prudent decision-making
does not seem to rise with experience as had been true in every other
group (the No Feedback group's prudent decisions were flat across the
experiment). In order to benefit from experience in this case, the
experience must include feedback about past behaviors and outcomes
(explicit reminders of what's been happening).
Figure 6: Prudent decision-making exhibited by the
Present/Future-Uncertainty groups across Fifty-Trial Blocks of the
One-way analyses of variance were performed on the mistakes that
participants made in estimating the key and point outcomes. The No
Feedback (22.3%) and Behavioral Feedback (20.3%) groups both made
significantly more mistakes in estimating the points than the
Behavioral/Outcome Feedback group (15.9%), F(2, 72) = 3.23,
p < .05. There was no significant difference in key
errors based on type of feedback. The addition of Behavioral/Outcome
Feedback again seemed to benefit prudent decision making (described in
previous paragraph) by increasing participants' understanding of the
contingencies present (but this time it is an understanding about the
Source ||df ||MS ||F ||p |
No Uncertainty || |
|Feedback ||2 || 0.038 ||3.94 ||.023|
|Fifty-Trial Block ||3 || 0.606 ||138.90 ||.000|
|Feedback X Fifty-Trial Block ||6 || 0.017 ||4.01 ||.001|
|Error (Fifty) ||216 || 0.004 |
|Error (Feedback) ||72 || 0.010 |
Present-Uncertainty || |
|Feedback ||2 || 0.138 ||2.75 ||.070 |
|Fifty-Trial Block ||3 || 0.234 ||17.23 ||.000 |
|Feedback X Fifty-Trial Block ||6 || 0.014 ||1.00 ||.425 |
|Error (Fifty) ||216 || 0.014 |
|Error (Feedback) ||72 || 0.050 |
Future-Uncertainty || |
|Feedback ||2 || 0.657 ||10.71 ||.000 |
|Fifty-Trial Block ||3 || 0.824 ||38.34 ||.000 |
|Feedback X Fifty-Trial Block ||6 || 0.028 ||1.32 ||.251 |
|Error (Fifty) ||216 || 0.022 |
|Error (Feedback) ||72 || 0.061 |
Present/Future-Uncertainty || |
|Feedback ||2 || 0.240 ||12.68 ||.000 |
|Fifty-Trial Block ||3 || 0.016 ||1.72 ||.164 |
|Feedback X Fifty-Trial Block ||6 || 0.026 ||2.72 ||.014 |
|Error (Fifty) ||216 || 0.009 |
|Error (Feedback) ||72 || 0.019 |
4 General discussion
Except in the Present/Future-Uncertainty with No-Feedback group, there
seemed to be a general amount of learning involved in the game. That
is, the more opportunities we have to make decisions with both
long-term and short-term consequences, the better we become at making
them. This general improvement with practice mirrors that seen in real
life with age. It seems that as a general statement, when the world
contains uncertainty, feedback increases prudent decision-making. The
addition of both types of uncertainty decreased prudent decision-making
further. Behavioral/Outcome Feedback led to improvements in the
participants' ability to predict the uncertainty in the game
(contingencies) in several cases and thus increased prudent
As predicted, the addition of both present and future uncertainty
decreased prudent decision-making with the addition of both types of
uncertainty decreasing prudent decision-making even further4. Also as
predicted, the addition of feedback led to increased levels of prudent
decision-making. Contrary to predictions however, the feedback
relationship was quite complicated. When there was No-Uncertainty,
feedback led to decreased levels of prudent decisions and feedback had
its strongest effect when the future was uncertain. When there was
No-Uncertainty, perhaps the addition of feedback simply leads to
confusion, an otherwise simple problem appears complicated. When the
future is uncertain, then it seems as though Behavioral/Outcome
Feedback is required before an improvement in prudent decision-making
is seen. This outcome seems sensible when one considers the role
feedback seems to play in allowing us to accurately keep track of
probabilities, thus decrease uncertainty. In order to accurately assess
probability, one must not only know past behaviors (the denominator of
the probability ratio), but also the outcomes (the numerator).
If the results from this experiment can be generalized, they would imply
that people who feel that the consequences of their actions are
unpredictable are less likely to make decisions driven by long-term
consequences (prudent decisions). Further, if this feeling of
uncertainty can be reduced (through feedback) by increasing awareness
of the contingencies which operate in the world, then prudent
decision-making should increase. This seems to be particularly true
when the future is uncertain (it might be argued that the creation of
Future-Uncertainty in the present experiment is confounded with average
payoff for prudent decision-making). Perhaps people living in poverty
look around them and see people working hard, yet barely managing to
make it from day to day (that is, the payoffs of prudent behavior are
small and hard to detect due to the uncertainty between present
behaviors and long-term consequences). They come to believe that the
long-term consequences of hard work (a prudent choice) are
unpredictable at best, or perhaps even negative. Anything we can do to
show people that though the world is uncertain, it is definitely not
unpredictable ought to increase their prudent behaviors (or decrease
imprudent behaviors as the case may be).
The question for future research then becomes, what else can we do to
convince people that uncertain does not equal unpredictable
(probabilistic does not equal random)? Giving feedback about our own
past behaviors and the consequences can be difficult in many real world
situations. For the smoker, the long-term consequences of smoking can
not be calculated by looking to their own past. Can feedback about
others' behaviors also serve to change our own behaviors and what are
the limitations of this influence?
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1Dr. Jay Brown, Department of Psychology,
Texas Wesleyan University, Fort Worth, TX 76105,
2 Though uncertainty is being treated as an isolated
issue in this paper, it must be noted that uncertainty in this type of
decision making process will be a moderator of the predictions that
would be made solely using time discounting functions (Frederick,
Loewenstein, & O'Donoghue, 2002).
3 The correlation between participants'
reported ACT (American College Test) composite score and
overall performance in the game was not significant, r(25) = .304. Also, the correlation between performance on the game
and scores from a survey designed to assess impulsiveness was
not significant, r(25) = -.291. These two findings, though
not significant, suggest that, though the game is one which
relies on past academic success, it clearly also is a measure
of impulsiveness. However, as the correlation between the
measure of impulsiveness and ACT composite score indicates
impulsiveness and past academic success would seem to go hand
in hand (r(25) = -.424, p < .05).
It should be recalled that expected value remained constant from the
Control to the Present-Uncertainty condition. However, when changing
from the Control to the Future-Uncertainty condition, expected values
changed and this change may be responsible for findings.
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