Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

People are better at strategic reasoning than was thought, research shows

Date:
October 20, 2010
Source:
University of Georgia
Summary:
When we make decisions based on what we think someone else will do, we must use reason to infer the other's next move -- or next three or more moves -- to know what we must do. This so-called recursive reasoning ability in humans has been thought to be somewhat limited. But now, in new research, it appears that people can engage in much higher levels of recursive reasoning than was previously thought.

When we make decisions based on what we think someone else will do, in anything from chess to warfare, we must use reason to infer the other's next move -- or next three or more moves -- to know what we must do. This so-called recursive reasoning ability in humans has been thought to be somewhat limited.

But now, in just-published research led by a psychologist at the University of Georgia, it appears that people can engage in much higher levels of recursive reasoning than was previously thought.

"In fact, they do it fairly easily and automatically," said Adam Goodie, head of the Georgia Decision Lab at UGA, "if the game is one that is simple and engages the tendency to pay attention to competition."

The study was just published in the Journal of Behavioral Decision Making. Co-authors of the new research are Prashant Doshi, of UGA's department of computer science, and Diana Young, now of Georgia College and State University. (She was at UGA when the study was done.) At UGA, the departments of psychology and computer science are both part of the Franklin College of Arts and Sciences.

Decision-making is part of day-to-day life, but when it involves competition, the complexity grows exponentially. Think of the classic scene in The Princess Bride when Vizzini and the Man in Black argue over which of two wine cups is poisoned. ("The battle of wits has begun. It ends when you decide and we both drink, and find out who is right . . . and who is dead.") In games such as chess, "thinking ahead" and trying to ferret out your opponent's moves is what distinguishes a casual player from a Grand Master.

When people typically make decisions, especially in competitive situations, they try to choose the path that has the most advantageous outcome, said Goodie. And while sometimes the best path is obvious, often it's less clear, especially in games or military conflict.

"The question we asked was this: What level of reasoning do human beings engage in when they aren't master chess players?" Goodie said. "Previous findings had been extremely pessimistic, suggesting that people were about equally likely merely to acknowledge the immediate preferences of an opponent as they were to go beyond that to higher levels of reasoning. If they do go to a higher level, it seemed that they only thought one step ahead."

In order to find out how deeply people really go in working out how many "moves ahead" they can make, Goodie and his colleagues set up an experiment in which large samples of student participants (136 in one trial, 232 in another) "played" against a programmed computer.

Called the "3-2-1-4 Game," the experiment was laid out on four spaces in a square with numbers on them in that sequence, starting with 3. The students were told they were playing against another participant in another room, and they and their invisible opponent -- actually the computer -- would walk around the spaces together, starting together and stopping together, alternating on who decides whether to stop where they are or to continue moving forward. The complicating factor was that each would have a different probability of winning money depending on where they finished -- with the students winning more on the highest possible number and the opponent winning more on the lowest.

"The ideal solution is to think ahead to what will happen if you get all the way around to 1," said Goodie, "and you have to choose whether to stay there or move to 4."

Contrary to previous literature, those in the experiment had no trouble with the game, ramping up from what is called "first-level reasoning" to "second-level reasoning" easily and consistently.

After discovering that participants had little trouble with the four spaces, the researchers made the game even more complicated by adding five stops in the order 3-2-4-5-1, with the same rules applying.

"To our surprise, participants had just as little trouble learning the game and playing it at the highest possible level," said Goodie.

In another popular film, WarGames, humans who appear unable to decide whether or not to launch nuclear missiles are replaced by a computer with chaotic and potentially disastrous results. The new research shows, as the film hints, that maybe people could have done the job all along.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by University of Georgia. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Adam S. Goodie, Prashant Doshi, Diana L. Young. Levels of theory-of-mind reasoning in competitive games. Journal of Behavioral Decision Making, 2010; DOI: 10.1002/bdm.717

Cite This Page:

University of Georgia. "People are better at strategic reasoning than was thought, research shows." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 20 October 2010. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/10/101019171858.htm>.
University of Georgia. (2010, October 20). People are better at strategic reasoning than was thought, research shows. ScienceDaily. Retrieved April 18, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/10/101019171858.htm
University of Georgia. "People are better at strategic reasoning than was thought, research shows." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/10/101019171858.htm (accessed April 18, 2014).

Share This



More Mind & Brain News

Friday, April 18, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Study On Artists' Brain Shows They're 'Structurally Unique'

Study On Artists' Brain Shows They're 'Structurally Unique'

Newsy (Apr. 17, 2014) The brains of artists aren't really left-brain or right-brain, but rather have extra neural matter in visual and motor control areas. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Is Apathy A Sign Of A Shrinking Brain?

Is Apathy A Sign Of A Shrinking Brain?

Newsy (Apr. 17, 2014) A recent study links apathetic feelings to a smaller brain. Researchers say the results indicate a need for apathy screening for at-risk seniors. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Are School Dress Codes Too Strict?

Are School Dress Codes Too Strict?

AP (Apr. 16, 2014) Pushing the limits on style and self-expression is a rite of passage for teens and even younger kids. How far should schools go with their dress codes? The courts have sided with schools in an era when school safety is paramount. (April 16) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Could Even Casual Marijuana Use Alter Your Brain?

Could Even Casual Marijuana Use Alter Your Brain?

Newsy (Apr. 16, 2014) A new study conducted by researchers at Northwestern and Harvard suggests even casual marijuana use can alter your brain. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins