Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

People know when to move from task to task

Date:
May 30, 2012
Source:
Association for Psychological Science
Summary:
People make decisions all the time and previous studies suggest that while we are good at making low-level perceptual choices, we're not so good when it comes decisions that require higher-level analysis. A new study provides evidence that people are better at decision-making than previously thought, showing that people are good at balancing the time they spend on various tasks, regardless of whether they are high-level or low-level tasks.

People make decisions all the time. What sandwich to order, whether to walk through that puddle or around it, what school to go to and so on. However, psychologists disagree on how good we are at making decisions.

Related Articles


"In the literature on human decision-making, there are two almost parallel stories," said Andreas Jarvstad of Cardiff University. "One goes, 'humans are terrible at making choices.' The other goes, 'humans are close to being as good as they possibly can be.'"

Jarvstad is an author of a new study on decision-making published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science. His study is about choosing how long to spend on the task at hand.

The view that humans are both terrible and great at decisions may not be as strange as it seems. Psychological scientists have made a distinction between different kinds of decisions: low-level perceptual choices versus choices that involve higher level reasoning. For example, choosing where to put your feet is a low-level choice, whereas choosing where to invest your savings is a high level choice.

"Imagine you're running up a really rocky path. For each step, you have to decide which stone to step on. Some stones will be poorer choices than other stones," Jarvstad said. Previous studies suggest that people are good at this kind of decision, but poor at decisions that require a higher level of analysis like choosing between financial options.

However, Jarvstad's study suggests that this difference doesn't always exist. Together with colleagues, Simon K. Rushton and Ulrike Hahn of Cardiff University and Paul A. Warren of the University of Manchester, he set out to determine how well people make "time-on-task" decisions -- that is, decisions about how long to spend on the task at hand. Participants took part in a number of computer-based tasks involving either low-level (e.g. judging the direction of motion of a cloud of dots) or high-level (e.g. mental arithmetic) processing.

Getting an answer right earned a reward point; getting it wrong incurred a penalty point (points were later translated to money).

After spending time becoming familiar with the tasks, participants were given a fixed amount of time to complete as many or few trials as they liked. "Doing lots of trials very quickly might not be the best approach since the less time you spend on the task the greater the chance of an error. But spending a lot of time on very few trials might also be a bad idea since you limit the number of points you could possibly earn. The trick is finding the right balance between the two."

It turned out that people were good at finding the right balance. "It didn't seem to matter whether people were doing a low-level or a high-level task -- they were equally good at deciding how much time to spend on these tasks," Jarvstad said. In fact, their participants ended up with nearly the same amount of money they would have earned if they had in fact made perfect decisions -- and that was true for low- as well as high-level tasks.

These findings suggest that perhaps humans really aren't intrinsically bad at high-level decision making and intrinsically good at low-level decision making after all. On reflection, noted Jarvstad, the idea that they would be is perhaps a little strange after all.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Association for Psychological Science. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. A. Jarvstad, S. K. Rushton, P. A. Warren, U. Hahn. Knowing When to Move On: Cognitive and Perceptual Decisions in Time. Psychological Science, 2012; DOI: 10.1177/0956797611426579

Cite This Page:

Association for Psychological Science. "People know when to move from task to task." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 30 May 2012. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/05/120530104038.htm>.
Association for Psychological Science. (2012, May 30). People know when to move from task to task. ScienceDaily. Retrieved April 18, 2015 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/05/120530104038.htm
Association for Psychological Science. "People know when to move from task to task." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/05/120530104038.htm (accessed April 18, 2015).

Share This


More From ScienceDaily



More Mind & Brain News

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Our Love Of Puppy Dog Eyes Explained By Science

Our Love Of Puppy Dog Eyes Explained By Science

Newsy (Apr. 17, 2015) Researchers found a spike in oxytocin occurs in both humans and dogs when they gaze into each other&apos;s eyes. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Scientists Find Link Between Gestational Diabetes And Autism

Scientists Find Link Between Gestational Diabetes And Autism

Newsy (Apr. 17, 2015) Researchers who analyzed data from over 300,000 kids and their mothers say they&apos;ve found a link between gestational diabetes and autism. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Video Messages Help Reassure Dementia Patients

Video Messages Help Reassure Dementia Patients

AP (Apr. 17, 2015) Family members are prerecording messages as part of a unique pilot program at the Hebrew Home in New York. The videos are trying to help victims of Alzheimer&apos;s disease and other forms of dementia break through the morning fog of forgetfulness. (April 17) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Common Pain Reliever Might Dull Your Emotions

Common Pain Reliever Might Dull Your Emotions

Newsy (Apr. 16, 2015) Each week, millions of Americans take acetaminophen to dull minor aches and pains. Now researchers say it might blunt life&apos;s highs and lows, too. 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:

Strange & Offbeat Stories


Health & Medicine

Mind & Brain

Living & Well

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