Australasian Mathematical Psychology Conference 2019

New insights into decisions from experience: Using cognitive models to understand how value information, outcome order, and salience drive risk taking

Jared M. Hotaling
University of New South Wales
Chris Donkin
University of New South Wales
Ben R. Newell
University of New South Wales
Andreas Jarvstad
City, University of London

Many real world decisions must be made on basis of experienced outcomes. However, little is known about the mechanism by which people make these decisions from experience. Much of the previous research has focused on contrasting these decisions with those based on described alternatives. Observations of a reliable description-experience gap (D-E gap) led Hotaling, Jarvstad, Donkin, and Newell (under review) to conduct a series of studies investigating various factors influencing decisions from experience. Critically, they found that the juncture at which value and probability information is provided has a fundamental effect on choice. They also found evidence for the impact of perceptual salience and outcome recency on choice.

To better understand these results and their implications regarding the mechanisms underlying human decision making, we developed an exemplar-based cognitive model. It uses a noisy error-prone memory mechanism to explain how confusions between events give rise to various behavioral patterns. According to the model, each time an outcome is experienced, a record is laid down in memory. However, memory traces can be disturbed in several ways as new information enters the system. We tested several versions of models within this basic framework, and found that one with mechanisms for value-assignment confusions and risk bias provided the best account. We discuss the implications of these findings on our understanding of the interplay between attention, memory, and choice, and the psychological underpinning of the description-experience gap.