Getting it right generally, but not precisely: learning the relation between multiple inputs and outputs

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In real-world situations, people are often faced with the complex task of deciding which of many potential variables are affecting their own or others' behavior, as well as noting which specific aspects of behavior are being affected. Although it is common for professionals who encounter such conditions to claim that they acquire accurate and specific knowledge from their experience, it is unclear that such confidence is justified. Using a managerial task, we examined participants' ability to learn how various interventions affect various aspects of their employees' performance. The results of three experiments reveal that although participants appear to avoid prescribing an intervention that has a positive effect on a primary performance measure and a negative side effect on a secondary measure, when asked directly about the impact of the intervention, they respond by reducing their judgments of its positive impact. This was true regardless of whether participants indicated clear knowledge of its negative side effect (Experiment 3) or did not (Experiments 1 and 2). Thus, participants appear to be automatically integrating across the effects on different outcome measures.

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Memory & cognition

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