Making heads or tails out of selecting problem-solving strategies

Proceedings of the Seventeenth Annual Conference of the Cognitive Science Society
Lovett, M. C., & Anderson, J. R.
Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Hillsdale, NJ

When solvers have more than one strategy available for a given problem, they must make a selection. As they select and use different strategies, solvers can learn the strengths and weaknesses of each. We study how solvers learn about the relative success rates of two strategies in the Building Sticks Task and what influence this learning has on later strategy selections. A theory of how people learn from and make such selections in an adaptive way is part of the ACT-R architecture (Anderson, 1993). We develop a computational model within ACT-R that predicts individual subjects' selections based on their histories of success and failure. The model fits the selection behavior of two subgroups of subjects: those who select each strategy according to its probability of success and those who select the more successful strategy exclusively. We relate these results to probability matching, a robust finding in the probability-learning literature that occurs when people select a response (e.g., guess heads vs. tails) a proportion of the time equal to the probability that the corresponding event occurs (e.g., the coin comes up heads vs. tails).