Australasian Mathematical Psychology Conference 2019

The dynamics of decision making during goal pursuit

Tim Ballard
Psychology, University of Queensland
Andrew Neal
University of Queensland
Simon Farrell
University of Western Australia
Andrew Heathcote
University of Tasmania

Goal pursuit can be thought as a series of interdependent decisions made in an attempt to progress towards a performance target. Whilst much is known about the intra-decision dynamics of single, one-shot decisions, far less is known about how this process changes over time as people get closer to achieving their goal and/or as a deadline looms. For example, people may respond to a looming deadline by either increasing the amount of effort they apply or by changing strategy. We have developed an extended version of the linear ballistic accumulator model that accounts for the effects that the dynamics of goal pursuit exert on the decision process. In this talk, I describe a series of recent studies that test this model. In each study, participants performed a random dot motion discrimination task in which they gained one point for correct responses and lost one point for incorrect responses. Their objective was to achieve a certain number of points within a certain timeframe (e.g., at least 30 points in 40 seconds). Preliminary results suggest that decision thresholds were highly sensitive to deadline, such that people prioritised speed over accuracy more strongly as the time remaining to achieve the goal decreased. The decision process was also sensitive to the amount of progress that remained before the goal was achieved, the difficulty of the decision, the incentive for goal achievement, and whether the goal was represented as an approach goal or an avoidance goal. These findings illustrate the sensitivity of decision making to the higher order goals of the individual, and provides an initial step towards a formal theory of how these higher level dynamics play out.