Video Games That Can Improve Your Decision Making in a Single Visit

Bias occurs naturally to everyone but it can often produce a negative outcome, and when it negatively affects decision making in critical areas such as law, medicine, and business, its study and improvement can contribute greatly to the public good.

Research has sought ways to train people to reduce their reliance on bias when making decisions. Some success has been achieved in very specific areas, such as weather forecasting or playing chess, but it has proved stubbornly difficult to coach people to apply that success to other domains.

Recognising that, historically, conventional attempts to improve decision making and reduce reliance on bias have proved ineffective, researchers from Boston Univeristy, Cass Business School, Leidos, Creative Technologies Inc., and Carnegie Mellon University spent four years developing two interactive computer games to provide a novel approach to the problem.

The games were used as part of two experiments on 4 separate groups of participants.

In the first experiment, one group of adult participants watched a 30 minute video entitled "Unbiasing Your Biases". The video covered several aspects of bias and offered strategies to lessen their impact. For the other part of the experiment, another group played one of the interactive games designed for the study. Called "Missing: The Pursuit of Terry Hughes", it focused on the same biases covered in the video, teaching ways in which the participants could reduce their propensity for them. The study measured how much each participant committed a set of biases before and after either watching the video or playing the game. The game proved more effective, reducing the three biases of blind spot, confirmation bias, and fundamental attribution error by 46% in the immediate term and 35% over the long term. In comparison the video reduced the same biases by 19% and 20% in the respective terms.

For the second experiment, a sample of adult participants watched a video entitled "Unbiasing Your Biases 2". The focus of this video were the biases categorised as anchoring, projection, and representativeness. Another group was invited to play a computer detective game called "Missing: The Final Secret", which tested their propensity to commit the same three bias categories. Once again the game proved more effective at reducing biased decision making than the video. Here, the game reduced the biases by 32% immediately and 24% over the long term. Again, the video had some success but at a lower rate than the game; 25% immediately and 19% over the long term.

The success of the video game approach is that it affects the decision maker rather than the specific decision, meaning that regardless of the situation the person is in they should be able to apply the discipline the games elicit. The results suggest that even a single training session using this method can improve decision making, proving it to be cost-effective too. This research is an exciting addition to a growing suite of techniques which aim to reduce the potentially costly mistakes that arise from biased decision making.

The full research paper has been published in Policy Insights in the Behavioural and Brain Sciences. A draft version of the research is available for download at the link below.

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