Abstract: Situations that present individuals with a conflict between local and global gains often result in a behavioral pattern known as melioration — a preference for immediate rewards over higher long-term gains. Using a variant of a paradigm by Tunney & Shanks (2002), we explored the potential role of feedback as a means to reduce this bias. We hypothesized that frequent and informative feedback about optimal performance might be the key to enable people to overcome the documented tendency to meliorate when choices are rewarded probabilistically. Much to our surprise, this intuition turned out to be mistaken. Instead of maximizing, 19 out of 22 participants demonstrated a clear bias towards melioration, regardless of feedback condition. From a human factors perspective, our results suggest that even frequent normative feedback may be insufficient to overcome inefficient choice allocation. We discuss implications for the theoretical notion of rationality and provide suggestions for future research that might promote melioration as an explanatory mechanism in applied contexts.
Keywords: Melioration, maximization, sequential decision making, Harvard game, feedback, stable suboptimal performance (SSP), rational task analysis (RTA).