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Timothy J. Vickery, Yuhong Jiang; Attention and competitive decision making. Journal of Vision 2005;5(8):685. doi: 10.1167/5.8.685.
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Aim: Does optimal decision-making depend on the availability of attention? When humans make decisions, their actions are a function not only of their current environment and present needs but also of historical variables such as their reward history. What role do attentional resources play in this process? Simple games are an excellent way to study the interface of attention and decision-making, because they are naturalistic and have explicit, well-defined ideal solutions. In this study we asked how humans process a visually presented reward signal and whether attentional manipulations would impact their performance. Methods: In the ‘penalty kick’ game, subjects play as either kicker or goalie, and the decisions are to jump/kick left or right. Goalies gain points by catching the ball and kickers gain points by getting the ball past the goalie. This game was played repeatedly for many trials. On some blocks, we enforced completion of a secondary task (a tone-counting task) simultaneous with the game task. Sometimes only one player had to perform the secondary task, whereas at other times both or neither players were distracted. Players received monetary rewards based on their game performance, but also contingent upon performance in the tone-counting task. Results: A secondary task reduced the ability of players to play unpredictably. Players scored lower on the game if they were distracted by the secondary task. In addition, subjects produced sequences of responses that were more predictable when they were distracted than those produced when they were not distracted. Conclusion: Withdrawing attention from a competitive task reduces the ability to analyze patterns in opponent behavior and disrupts the ability to produce unpredictable behavior.
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