Learning and transfer in dynamic decision environments

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Computer Information Systems


An important aspect of learning is the ability to transfer knowledge to new contexts. However, in dynamic decision tasks, such as bargaining, firefighting, and process control, where decision makers must make repeated decisions under time pressure and outcome feedback may relate to any of a number of decisions, such transfer has proven elusive. This paper proposes a two-stage connectionist model which hypothesizes that decision makers learn to identify categories of evidence requiring similar decisions as they perform in dynamic environments. The model suggests conditions under which decision makers will be able to use this ability to help them in novel situations. These predictions are compared against those of a one-stage decision model that does not learn evidence categories, as is common in many current theories of repeated decision making. Both models' predictions are then tested against the performance of decision makers in an Internet bargaining task. Both models correctly predict aspects of decision makers' learning under different interventions. The two-stage model provides closer fits to decision maker performance in a new, related bargaining task and accounts for important features of higher-performing decision makers' learning. Although frequently omitted in recent accounts of repeated decision making, the processes of evidence category formation described by the two-stage model appear critical in understanding the extent to which decision makers learn from feedback in dynamic tasks.