If you have participated in one of our research studies, thanks again!
Studies about risky decision making
If you participated in a task that looked like this:
Broadly, this task was one of the ways we studied a phenomenon of gain-loss asymmetry – our choices about chance gains differ systematically from our choices about chance losses. This is interesting because it shows a bias in our decision-making that should not exist if we relied on the numerical values alone (i.e. if we acted as “rational” decision makers).
In this task you made choices between two decks of cards, where one deck was always more profitable (i.e. gains outweighed the losses) than the other. You didn’t know which deck was which and had to figure this out by clicking on each deck and seeing the outcomes. We looked at differences between people in their choices and how precisely they were able to detect which deck was the most profitable.
Using this task, we found that participants were generally more precise in detecting which deck of cards had more frequent winning cards, than detecting which deck had less frequent losing cards. This suggested to us that when it comes to detecting differences in frequency of an event, we are more sensitive to differences in gains than losses. We also found that participants were generally less precise in detecting which side had larger wins or smaller losses, suggesting that we are better at tracking frequency rather than magnitude of events.
If you participated in a task where you navigated a skier down a slope in a game like this:
Or if you made repeated choices between monetary amounts in a task like this:
Broadly, these tasks were used to study a phenomenon of gain-loss asymmetry – our choices about chance gains differ systematically from our choices about chance losses. This is interesting because it shows a bias in our decision-making that should not exist if we relied on the numerical values alone (i.e. if we acted as “rational” decision makers).
In general people value larger rewards more than smaller rewards – e.g. if you had the choice between $100 and $200 you would almost certainly choose $200. We also value rewards we can get for certain more than those we are not guaranteed to receive. For example, if you had the choice between $100 for certain and $100 with a 50% chance, you would likely opt to receive $100 for certain. Things get a bit trickier if you were given the choice between $100 for certain and $200 with a 50% chance. People find this type of choice difficult because they have to trade-off preferred probability versus preferred amount. Choices between losing a smaller amount of money for certain or possibly losing a larger amount of money can be tricky for similar reasons. This willingness to trade-off probability and amount has been shown to vary depending on if the choice is about gains or about losses, demonstrating a gain-loss asymmetry.
You completed one or both types of tasks that our lab used to study gain-loss asymmetry in this trade-off scenario, one involving hypothetical money and the other points in a ski game. We found that your willingness to trade-off probability and amount depended on whether you were deciding purely from the descriptions of the options or if you also experienced feedback on the outcome of each choice. Participants were more risk seeking for gains the more experience they had with chance outcomes, but their willingness to risk losses did not change as much with experience. This suggested to us that the extent of gain-loss asymmetry depended on how you learned about the probabilities.