Learning near-optimal search in a minimal explore/exploit task

Sang, K., Todd, P. M., & Goldstone, R. L. (2011). Learning near-optimal search in a minimal explore/exploit task. Proceedings of the Thirty-Third Annual Conference of the Cognitive Science Society. (pp. 2800-2805). Boston, Massachusetts: Cognitive Science Society.

How well do people search an environment for non-depleting resources of different quality, where it is necessary to switch between exploring for new resources and exploiting those already found? Employing a simple card selection task to study exploitation and exploration, we find that the total resources accrued, the number of switches between exploring and exploiting, and the number of trials until stable exploitation becomes more similar to those of the optimal strategy as experience increases across searches. Subjects learned to adjust their effective (implicit) thresholds for exploitation toward the optimal threshold over 30 searches. Those implicit thresholds decrease over turns within each search, just as the optimal threshold does, but subjects’ explicitly stated exploitation threshold increases over turns. Nonetheless, both the explicit and learned implicit thresholds produced performance close to optimal.

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