When to walk away: The effect of variability on keeping options viable

Abstract

In this work we explore a variant of a classic explore/exploit dilemma based on a recent study by Shin and Ariely (2004). We presented participants with a scenario in which they were forced to explore among 9 different options of unknown value; for some, options left unexplored long enough disappeared. Contrary to expectations, the mere presence of additional options did not substantially increase people's ability to walk away from them. However, when options differed in value, people were able to locate the more valuable options and became much more willing to walk away from at least a few. Finally, our analysis of individual differences revealed that while people differ greatly in the strategies they approach the task with, almost every participant showed an "explore to exploit" shift over time.


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