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A Cognitive Tutor for Helping People Overcome Present Bias


Conference Paper


People's reliance on suboptimal heuristics gives rise to a plethora of cognitive biases in decision-making including the present bias, which denotes people's tendency to be overly swayed by an action's immediate costs/benefits rather than its more important long-term consequences. One approach to helping people overcome such biases is to teach them better decision strategies. But which strategies should we teach them? And how can we teach them effectively? Here, we leverage an automatic method for discovering rational heuristics and insights into how people acquire cognitive skills to develop an intelligent tutor that teaches people how to make better decisions. As a proof of concept, we derive the optimal planning strategy for a simple model of situations where people fall prey to the present bias. Our cognitive tutor teaches people this optimal planning strategy by giving them metacognitive feedback on how they plan in a 3-step sequential decision-making task. Our tutor's feedback is designed to maximally accelerate people's metacognitive reinforcement learning towards the optimal planning strategy. A series of four experiments confirmed that training with the cognitive tutor significantly reduced present bias and improved people's decision-making competency: Experiment 1 demonstrated that the cognitive tutor's feedback can help participants discover far-sighted planning strategies. Experiment 2 found that this training effect transfers to more complex environments. Experiment 3 found that these transfer effects are retained for at least 24 hours after the training. Finally, Experiment 4 found that practicing with the cognitive tutor can have additional benefits over being told the strategy in words. The results suggest that promoting metacognitive reinforcement learning with optimal feedback is a promising approach to improving the human mind.

Author(s): Falk Lieder and Frederick Callaway and Yash Raj Jain and Paul M. Krueger and Priyam Das and Sayan Gul and Thomas L. Griffiths
Year: 2019
Month: July

Department(s): Rationality Enhancement
Research Project(s): Cognitive Tutors
Bibtex Type: Conference Paper (conference)
Paper Type: Conference

DOI: 10.13140/RG.2.2.10467.20006
Event Name: RLDM 2019

Note: Falk Lieder and Frederick Callaway contributed equally to this publication.
State: Published


  title = {A Cognitive Tutor for Helping People Overcome Present Bias},
  author = {Lieder, Falk and Callaway, Frederick and Jain, Yash Raj and Krueger, Paul M. and Das, Priyam and Gul, Sayan and Griffiths, Thomas L.},
  month = jul,
  year = {2019},
  note = {Falk Lieder and Frederick Callaway contributed equally to this publication.},
  month_numeric = {7}