Repeated causal decision making


Many of our decisions refer to actions that have a causal impact on the external environment. Such actions may not only allow for the mere learning of expected values or utilities but also for acquiring knowledge about the causal structure of our world. We used a repeated decision-making paradigm to examine what kind of knowledge people acquire in such situations and how they use their knowledge to adapt to changes in the decision context. Our studies show that decision makers’ behavior is strongly contingent on their causal beliefs and that people exploit their causal knowledge to assess the consequences of changes in the decision problem. A high consistency between hypotheses about causal structure, causally expected values, and actual choices was observed. The experiments show that (a) existing causal hypotheses guide the interpretation of decision feedback, (b) consequences of decisions are used to revise existing causal beliefs, and (c) decision makers use the experienced feedback to induce a causal model of the choice situation even when they have no initial causal hypotheses, which (d) enables them to adapt their choices to changes of the decision problem.

Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition, 1, 33–50