Doing something else

I could not resist a paper with a title like Heuristics in dynamic decision making: Coping with the time constants of a dynamic task by doing something else, from the 23rd International Conference of the System Dynamics Society held July 17-21, 2005 in Boston.

The paper, by Berndt Brehmer and Frederick Elg, argues that
“System Dynamics (SD) modelling sometimes involves modelling human behaviour in dynamic systems. Such modelling will be as successful as the understanding of human behaviour upon which it is based….In the real world, everything takes time, so feedback never follows upon action immediately…. There is now quite a number of studies that show that even minimal delays wreak havoc with a person’s decision making strategy..”

After an experiment involving responses to simulated fire situations calling for quick decisions, the authors found that people used the “better safe than sorry” heuristic… which “… works quite well in that gets the job done, although not at minimum cost….” In other words, they over-responded, sending out large numbers of fire appliances to both major and less major incidents, despite having a learning stage in the experiment which they could have used to set up internal frequency gambling heuristics as the authors expected them to do. (In other words, learn a set of frequencies and use them to bet on what was most likely to be happening).

Im slightly disappointed: I thought from the title that people coped with uncertainty under pressure by taking five minutes to have a cup of coffee. (Well, I do.) But an interesting and witty paper.

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