Small Grants 2019-20

Incomplete and cumulative information as determinants of competitive decision-making quality (S47)

Project Approved 2019-20

Dr. Ben Dyson (Principal Investigator)
Department of Psychology, University of Alberta
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A common theme across both gambling and cognitive psychology literatures is the idea that impulsivity causes irrational action. A reliable predictor of impulsivity is the experience of a negative outcome, which increases the likelihood of moving on to the next action too fast, generating a cycle of poor-quality decision-making. This research proposes a series of 6 experiments examining the contributions of incomplete response information and cumulative score in determining the way in which individuals are able to optimize their responding against exploitableexploiting, and, neither exploitable nor exploiting opponents during simple games. In Experiments 1-4, attention will be directed towards playeropponent, or, player and opponent responding as a way of reconciling the outcome of competition early, thereby allowing extra time for how to respond on the next interaction. In Experiments 5-6, the role of positive or negative cumulative score will be examined as a potential long-term contribution to sub-optimal performance. These experiments will allows us to understand how we experience success and failure, how we monitor our perceived degree of environmental control, and how we update dynamic processes in an attempt to concurrently minimize losses and maximize gains. The research will yield clear guidelines for mechanisms in helping individuals improve the quality of competitive decision-making when they may naturally be at their most cognitively vulnerable.

The first set of results from #S47 (based on original Experiments 5-6) unpacks how individuals respond to ambiguous feedback. Responding to positive and negative feedback is a central requirement for both species and individual survival. However, when information regarding the relative success or failure of actions is ambiguous such as the case of a draw, outcomes requires individual interpretation. We mapped the subjective aspect of feedback interpretation comparing the behavioural profiles generated by objectively neutral outcomes (draws) with those profiles generated by objectively positive (wins) and negative (losses) outcomes. We show the processing cascade generated by stalemate produces a complex behavioural profile containing elements of both explicitly positive and explicitly negative outcomes. Thus, neutral outcomes do not exist as a third category of performance adjudication but rather are manifest by being both simultaneously positive and negative. This manuscript is currently in review at Journal of Experimental Psychology: General.

The second set of results from #S47 (based on original Experiments 1-4, as well as new Experiments 3b and 4b) address the interaction between tendencies towards impulsive (i.e., speeded) and sub-optimal (i.e., predictable) response with the provision of incomplete competitive information. If self-imposed reductions in decision-making time cause future behaviour to be sub-optimal, these effects should be compounded when the competitive environment withholds information. For example, in the case of Rock, Paper, Scissors, withholding the opponent’s response means that the outcome of the trial cannot be resolved until it is explicitly presented. This imposes a further restriction on future decision-making time. Our provisional analyses reveal a numeric increase in win-stay (but not lose-shift) mechanics when opponent information is withheld. This would be consistent with our previous data where breaking associative bonds between action and agent modulated winstay but not lose-shift (Srihaput, Craplewe & Dyson, 2020).

The third set of results from #S47 challenge previous attentional accounts of competitive decision-making, specifically, loss-restlessness and gain-calmness (e.g., Yechiam, Zahavi & Arditi, 2015). These terms represent long-form expressions of win-stay and lose-shift, across consecutive trials. Utilizing the opponent manipulation across Experiments 1-4 (as well as new Experiments 3b and 4b) we are able to compare performance across unexploitable, exploitable and exploiting opponents (n = 216). We observed that the distribution of wins vs. losses may be a key determinant in the predictability of individual behaviour. In particular, statistically significant reversals of loss-restlessness and gain-calmness behaviour were observed when participants were unable to beat their opponent (i.e., unexploitable).

The project demonstrates the utility of applying a highly-focused Cognitive Psychology lens to our understanding of competitive decision-making. In particular, the data resulting from this grant highlight the dynamism and individuality associated with decision-making mechanisms. In contrast to gross statements regarding individual tendencies (such as win-stay and lose shift, or, post-error speeding and post-error slowing) we are able to identify the environmental conditions under which such behavioural expressions are manifest. As a result of the careful and comprehensive design of our experimental series, we continue to be able to answer additional questions not originally proposed in the grant with the additionally benefit of combining studies together to form a larger sample size.

Appreciating the conditions under which we may control the quality of decision-making to see it rise, and the conditions under which we cannot control the quality of decision-making only to see it fall, is critical for understanding how we approach, engage and ultimately remove ourselves from increasingly sophisticated competitive and gambling environments. Our research continues to reveal both internal and external conditions that contribute to the quality of decision-making during competition. We are beginning to understand how factors such as individual reactions to loss, stresses associated with high- or low-stake environments, and, perceptual complexity all contribute to the quality of performance against a variety of opponent classes (unexploitable, exploitable, exploiting). In these regards, our Cognitive Psychology lens point to future, testable environmental features (such as mandatory time-out periods) that can help individuals improve the quality of decision-making when they may naturally be at their most cognitively vulnerable. Such features will serve as a focus for future research.

Several articles in preparation.

The Alberta Gambling Research Institute provides grant funding to support peer-endorsed academic investigations into many aspects of gambling research. The contents, recommendations, and findings of the associated research reports, posted on this website, represent the views of the researcher(s).

Relationship between Cannabis, Decision-making, Reward Processing and Motor Learning (S48)

Project Approved 2019-20

Dr. Anthony Singhal (Principal Investigator)
Department of Psychology, University of Alberta

Dr. Reyhaneh Bakhtiari (Co-Investigator)
Department of Psychology, University of Alberta
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This project investigates the acute and chronic effects of cannabis on decision-making, reward processing, and motor learning. It aims to further understand alterations in the dopaminergic system indirectly reflected by the overlap of problem gambling and cannabis use.

Time Frame: December 1, 2019 to November 30, 2020; extended to December 31, 2022.