Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:


U of M research provides insights into the roots of gamblers' fallacies and other superstitions

Research helps explain causes of seemingly irrational human decision-making

Gamblers who think they have a "hot hand," only to end up walking away with a loss, may nonetheless be making "rational" decisions, according to new research from University of Minnesota psychologists. The study finds that because humans are making decisions based on how we think the world works, if erroneous beliefs are held, it can result in behavior that looks distinctly irrational.

This research, forthcoming in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) "Early Edition," examines the roots of a seemingly irrational human decision strategy that occurs in so-called binary choice tasks, which has perplexed researchers in economics, psychology and neuroscience for decades. In these tasks, subjects are repeatedly asked to choose between two options, with one option having a higher probability of being correct than the other (imagine a biased coin that will land on heads 70 percent of trials, and tails on 30 percent of trials). While the right strategy is to always pick the higher probability option, subjects instead choose the options in proportion to the probability of it being correct.

"The overarching idea is that there is typically structure in the world, and it makes sense that when we make decisions, we try to understand the structure in order to exploit it," says Shawn Green, a post-doctoral fellow in the College of Liberal Arts' Department of Psychology and Center for Cognitive Sciences. "One of the simplest kinds of 'structure' is when the outcome that just occurred tells you something about what is likely to happen next."

"Where people go astray is when they base their decisions on beliefs that are different than what is actually present in the world," says Green. "In the coin example, if you toss a coin five times and all five times are heads, should you pick heads or tails on the next flip? Assuming the coin is fair, it doesn't matter – the five previous heads don't change the probability of heads on the next flip - it's still 50 percent - but people nevertheless act as though those previous flips influence the next one."

Green says when things are actually independent over time, meaning they don't have any structure, people will interpret results through possible structures, a way of thinking often seen among gamblers. For example, gamblers who win three hands in a row, may believe themselves to be "hot" and thus more likely to win the next hand. Green, with advisors Daniel Kersten and Paul Schrater, showed that similar behaviors are seen even in an optimal, fully rational computer learner given similar incorrect beliefs about the world.

Furthermore, when the context of the task was changed so that subjects understood that the outcomes were actually independent, a drastic shift in their behavior was noted, with subjects all doing the "right" thing for the way the world actually worked.

"This demonstrates that given the right world model, humans are more than capable of easily learning to make optimal decisions," Green says.

The paper "Alterations in choice behavior by manipulations of world model," forthcoming in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), was co-authored by C. Shawn Green, Charles Benson, Daniel Kersten and Paul Schrater in the Department of Psychology, College of Liberal Arts, University of Minnesota.

Jeff Falk | EurekAlert!
Further information:

More articles from Studies and Analyses:

nachricht Diagnoses: When Are Several Opinions Better Than One?
19.07.2016 | Max-Planck-Institut für Bildungsforschung

nachricht High in calories and low in nutrients when adolescents share pictures of food online
07.04.2016 | University of Gothenburg

All articles from Studies and Analyses >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: New 3-D wiring technique brings scalable quantum computers closer to reality

Researchers from the Institute for Quantum Computing (IQC) at the University of Waterloo led the development of a new extensible wiring technique capable of controlling superconducting quantum bits, representing a significant step towards to the realization of a scalable quantum computer.

"The quantum socket is a wiring method that uses three-dimensional wires based on spring-loaded pins to address individual qubits," said Jeremy Béjanin, a PhD...

Im Focus: Scientists develop a semiconductor nanocomposite material that moves in response to light

In a paper in Scientific Reports, a research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute describes a novel light-activated phenomenon that could become the basis for applications as diverse as microscopic robotic grippers and more efficient solar cells.

A research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) has developed a revolutionary, light-activated semiconductor nanocomposite material that can be used...

Im Focus: Diamonds aren't forever: Sandia, Harvard team create first quantum computer bridge

By forcefully embedding two silicon atoms in a diamond matrix, Sandia researchers have demonstrated for the first time on a single chip all the components needed to create a quantum bridge to link quantum computers together.

"People have already built small quantum computers," says Sandia researcher Ryan Camacho. "Maybe the first useful one won't be a single giant quantum computer...

Im Focus: New Products - Highlights of COMPAMED 2016

COMPAMED has become the leading international marketplace for suppliers of medical manufacturing. The trade fair, which takes place every November and is co-located to MEDICA in Dusseldorf, has been steadily growing over the past years and shows that medical technology remains a rapidly growing market.

In 2016, the joint pavilion by the IVAM Microtechnology Network, the Product Market “High-tech for Medical Devices”, will be located in Hall 8a again and will...

Im Focus: Ultra-thin ferroelectric material for next-generation electronics

'Ferroelectric' materials can switch between different states of electrical polarization in response to an external electric field. This flexibility means they show promise for many applications, for example in electronic devices and computer memory. Current ferroelectric materials are highly valued for their thermal and chemical stability and rapid electro-mechanical responses, but creating a material that is scalable down to the tiny sizes needed for technologies like silicon-based semiconductors (Si-based CMOS) has proven challenging.

Now, Hiroshi Funakubo and co-workers at the Tokyo Institute of Technology, in collaboration with researchers across Japan, have conducted experiments to...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>



Event News

#IC2S2: When Social Science meets Computer Science - GESIS will host the IC2S2 conference 2017

14.10.2016 | Event News

Agricultural Trade Developments and Potentials in Central Asia and the South Caucasus

14.10.2016 | Event News

World Health Summit – Day Three: A Call to Action

12.10.2016 | Event News

Latest News

Resolving the mystery of preeclampsia

21.10.2016 | Health and Medicine

Stanford researchers create new special-purpose computer that may someday save us billions

21.10.2016 | Information Technology

From ancient fossils to future cars

21.10.2016 | Materials Sciences

More VideoLinks >>>