Reinhard Selten

Experimental Results on the Process of Goal Formation and Aspiration Adaptation

Friday, 22 August 2008
10:40 - 11:20 hrs CEST


We experimentally investigate how subjects deal with a multi-period planning and decision problem. The context is a profit maximization task in a computer-simulated monopoly market over fifty time periods. The subjects are provided with a computerized planning tool allowing them to check feasibility of any aspiration level for any set of short-term feedback variables. We present results regarding, first, the selection of short-term feedback variables (goal variables) and, second, the process of aspiration adaptation. As to the first, we find that subjects with at least median success change their goal variables less frequently than those below median success. Relatedly, goal persistence, a measure of a subject's tendency to stick to the current goal system, is strongly positively correlated with success. As to the second, we find that aspiration levels tend to be changed in strong agreement with basic principles of Aspiration Adaptation Theory (Sauermann and Selten 1962, Selten 1998, 2001).
In addition, we find that in many cases the process of aspiration adaptation leads into a nearly stationary situation in which the aspiration level is approximately reproduced by a subject over several periods. Some subjects who reach a nearly stationary situation explore for a more profitable nearly stationary situation. Those subjects who reach a nearly stationary situation tend to be more successful and more goal persistent than those who do not.

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