Exploratory Choice Reflects the Future Value of Information

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Abstract

The tension between exploration and exploitation is a primary challenge in decision making under uncertainty. Optimal models of choice prescribe that individuals resolve this tension by evaluating how information gained from their choices will improve future choices. However, research in behavioral economics and psychology has yielded conflicting evidence about whether people consider the future during exploratory choice, particularly in complex, uncertain environments. Adding to the empirical evidence on this issue, we examine exploratory decision making in a novel approach-avoid paradigm. In the first set of experiments we find that people parametrically increase their exploration when the expected number of future encounters with a prospect is larger. In the second we demonstrate that when the number of future encounters is unknown, as is often the case in everyday life, people are sensitive to the relative frequency of future encounters with a prospect. Our experiments show that people adaptively utilize information about the future when deciding to explore, a tendency that may shape decisions across several real-world domains.

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