Rationality Defined Again-RUN & JUMP

jumpThis post discusses a paper entitled: “Rational decision making: balancing RUN and JUMP modes of analysis,” that appeared in Mind Soc (2012) 11:69–80.  It was written by Tilmann Betsch and Carsten Held. I enjoy Tilmann Betsch’s work.  This paper combines several ideas in an understandable form.  Betsch along with Andreas Glockner have done much to promote the ability of intuition (Intuition in J/DM), but this paper defines rationality as the appropriate balance between the RUN and JUMP modes of analysis.


Betsch and Held note that research on non-analytic processing has led some authors to conclude that intuition is superior to analysis or to at least promote it as such with the obvious example being Malcolm Gladwell in Blink.  Such a notion, however, neglects the important role of decision context. The advantages and disadvantages of the different types of thought depend on the nature of the task. Moreover, the plea for a general superiority of intuition neglects the fact that analysis is capable of things that intuition is not. Consider, for example, the case of routine maintenance and deviation decisions. Routine decisions will lead to good results if prior experiences are representative for the task at hand. In a changing world, however, routines can become obsolete.

In the absence of analytic thought, adapting to changing contexts requires slow, repetitive learning. Upon encountering repeated failure, the individual’s behavioral tendencies will change. The virtue of deliberate analysis lies in its power to quickly adapt to new situations without necessitating slow reinforcement learning. Whereas intuition is fast and holistic due to parallel processing, it is a slave to the pre-formed structure of knowledge as well as the representation of the decision problem. The relations among goals, situations, options and outcomes that result from prior  knowledge provide the structural constraints under which intuitive processes operate. They can work very efficiently but, nevertheless, cannot change these constraint. The potential of analytic thought dwells in the power to change the structure of the representation of a decision problem.

Betsch and Held suggest distinguishing analytic processes on the level of analysis. A decision maker can consciously direct the implementation of a certain analytic strategy. In the RUN-mode, the goals and representation of the situation as well as the instantiated rules for searching, stopping and choosing provide the antecedents for a deliberate activity but not their target. That is, analytic thinking is devoted to properly performing the required operations. Real world settings may involve more complex search processes, such as anticipation of potential outcomes or aided search in the environment (e.g., employing an Internet search engine). Reflective processes in the RUN mode involve monitoring the entire process, planning search activities, making additional evaluations (e.g., validity of information, source credibility etc.) and controlling (e.g., shielding rule application against irrelevant information and distraction). All these efforts aim at efficiently implementing and completing the strategy. As such, RUN-mode thinking is performed within the constraints of a certain interpretation of a decision situation and only after certain rules of conduct have been selected. Cognitive costs in this mode are not only a function of information quantity and strategy complexity but also of scrutiny, i.e., the number of control operations performed. For instance, a decision maker might decide to re-perform a strategy or some of its crucial steps to minimize error.

A JUMP-mode is said to be applied when the individual analyzes the antecedents of the decision. Reflective processes (monitoring, planning, evaluation, control) are directed at the goals, the type of decision situation and alternative strategies. In this mode, the individual jumps between goal patterns, interpretations of the situation and alternative strategies when making a decision. JUMP mode activity is required, for instance, to effectively deviate from prior choice patterns. For example, decision makers thinking in the JUMP mode may ask themselves whether their choices and strategy routines really do apply to the current situation, re-evaluate their categorization of the type of task and consider or construct new strategies to cope
with the task.

For the analytic type of thinking, the power of control is the general advantage. However, analytic processing has specific advantages in the RUN and JUMP modes. In the RUN mode, control is directed at conduct, while the antecedents are maintained. Control is necessary to maintain the antecedents (e.g., retain a selected search strategy), shield the process against distraction, overcome obstacles and so forth. ‘‘Keep going’’ is the motto of this mode. Control activity reduces primary errors, such as overlooking relevant information or making false calculations. In contrast, JUMP-mode thinking requires the decision maker to consider the big picture—that is, to critically challenge the antecedents. ‘‘Prepare for change’’ is the device that governs this mode. If, for instance, a new situation appears to be a routine situation yet the learned pay-off structure no longer applies, it would be advantageous for the decision maker to JUMP—that is, consider alternative goals, alternative framings of the situation and alternative decision strategies. Control in this mode serves to maintain a broad perspective and withstand the temptation maintain routines. Thinking too much, however, can obstruct decision accuracy in both modes. In the RUN mode, too much motivation can provoke an over-sampling of information and/or an inappropriate iteration of checks and re-calculations. At worst, the decision maker will be caught in circular operations or collapse under the burden of information overload.  Thinking too much in the JUMP-mode may at first lead to a creative blast—potentials, interpretations and prospects; eventually, however, it can lead to irritation and indecision.  Once a situation is classified and a decision strategy begun, RUN-mode operates within these bounds and cannot overcome them by virtue of its own processing. Only failure can cause the decision maker to switch modes. For instance, if no dominant option can be found, the decision maker must engage in JUMP-mode thinking, which will eventually result in the reframing of the decision problem, restructuring of the input and activation of alternative decision strategies. Whereas JUMP-mode thinking helps under the former conditions, it increases the likelihood of secondary errors if it is needlessly applied. Consider, for example, a recurrent situation in which a certain analytic strategy has proven successful. Beginning each decision under these conditions in a JUMP-mode may increase the likelihood that a valid strategy will be erroneously rejected (secondary error). A chronic tendency to JUMP will manifest itself in exaggerated decision effort even in situations in which a solution is readily available.

Betsch and Held propose that there are at least three steps that must be taken in order to make decisions in a rational fashion. First, decision makers must learn to RUN, i.e., to plan, monitor, evaluate and intentionally control the implementation of decision strategies. Second, they must learn to JUMP, i.e., to plan, monitor, evaluate and intentionally control the switch between goal sets, task representations and strategies. These abilities are preconditions for the third and most important step: balancing RUN and JUMP modes of analytic thought. Obviously, neither mode is generally superior to other. Both have their advantages and disadvantages. Therefore, the level of rationality in decision making depends on the extent to which an individual is capable of effectively balancing RUN and JUMP mode activity. Betsch and Held note that, for many mundane routine tasks, intuitive control will suffice to maintain situation mastery. However, for new tasks or when choice outcomes fall below aspiration thresholds, analysis will be required. Clearly, however, we need research on this issue to determine how RUN and JUMP modes are most efficiently balanced. Meta-knowledge about strategies is surely important. Individuals can learn metastrategies of how to deal efficiently with decisions of more than routine  importance. Math students can be trained, for instance, to first JUMP (‘‘first check whether there are different interpretations of the problem, then choose your approach’’) and then RUN (‘‘supervise performance of your chosen approach carefully and check results twice’’). In his studies on naturalistic decision making, Klein (1999) found evidence for a similar meta-strategy in experts. Experts devoted more time to checking the antecedents of situations before making a decision than novices even when under time pressure.

Betsch and Held conclude that research should strive for a better understanding of resource allocation  between RUN and JUMP modes in analytic decision making.

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