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How computer games could help us all make better decisions in life

Issue date:
20 January 2011
Type:
Press release 
Digital economy
Computer gamers

A prototype computer game has been developed to help improve decision making skills in all aspects of our lives.

Supported by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), a team at Queen's University Belfast has developed a prototype that could be built on by commercial games manufacturers and turned into an e-learning or training tool for professionals in all walks of life - and for the general public too.

Alternatively, some of its features could be incorporated into existing computer games that have a strategy element.

The team has explored whether people can be trained to make better decisions by improving their ability to recognise and make allowances for their subjective opinions and biases, and to 'factor in' accurately their uncertainty over a decision's likely outcome.

You're late for a train. Will you be able to catch it if you run? Or will that result in the stress of wasted effort? To maximise your chances of reaching the right decision, you'll need to take into account all information available to you (which may change minute by minute). But it also helps if, using this information, you try to make an appraisal of your chances, which will be more accurate if you take into account how you tend to interpret such information, based on previous experience. For example, maybe you know whether you tend to be over-or under-confident in similar situations.

Home page of the quiz
Screenshot from the prototype game

In the same way, the prototype game teaches people to take their uncertainty into account and learn from experience when faced with simple choices.

"It's the first ever online quiz designed to let people estimate how sure they are of their answers and score more highly if they don't ignore their uncertainty but realistically assess it," says Dr David Newman, who has led the project.

"Whether the choices facing us are simple or complex, a greater awareness of uncertainty and of our own biases can improve the quality of our decision-making. We believe there's real potential for people to acquire that awareness through computer games."

In the future, games of this type could be used for both educational and entertainment purposes by public and private sector decision-makers and by private individuals in order to enhance their decision-making abilities.

Example question from the quiz
Screenshot from the prototype game

Over 500 members of the general public, as well as many students from Queen's and Dundalk Institute of Technology, have already tried out the prototype. The results are currently being assessed to establish the extent to which it has taught them to make better decisions.

"The game we've developed is a research tool that's enabling us to find out much more about the thought processes and psychological mechanisms involved in decision making," says Jyldyz Tabyldy kyzy, a key member of the project team.

Notes for Editors

'World of Uncertainty' is a four-year initiative that has received EPSRC funding of just under £269,000.

This is an interdisciplinary project harnessing leading-edge expertise in mathematics, statistics, critical thinking, knowledge management and educational psychology. Involved in the initiative are: a statistician from Cambridge University (Professor Philip Dawid); a game developer and managers from Brunel University (Dr Melissa Cole, David Green and Tony Elliman); a main researcher and an information system specialist from Queen's University Management School (Dr David Newman and PhD student Jyldyz Tabyldy kyzy); and Dr Bride Mallon and Dr Emiliya Lazarova (also of Queen's).

Screenshot from the prototype game
Screenshot from the prototype game

The prototype game presents a series of multiple-choice questions (e.g. 'what is the capital of Egypt?'). But its aim is not to test knowledge but to assess whether the participant can be trained to recognise, quantify and make allowances for their certainty or uncertainty regarding the answer to each question. The player indicates their confidence in their answer using an interactive slider and is awarded points based on how accurately they estimated their level of certainty. Detailed feedback then helps them recognise and correct the over-or under-confidence they tend to show when faced with similar decisions.

The project team is very keen for members of the public to try the game out and take part in surveys that can be used to help inform future research about decision making under uncertainty. New types of quizzes and surveys will be regularly added to the project website and the team plans to publish a league table of the best results achieved by people who try it out.

The idea for the project emerged from an EPSRC Sandpit. A Sandpit is a residential interactive workshop over 5 days involving 20-30 participants, the director and a number of independent stakeholders. An essential element is a highly multidisciplinary mix of participants taking part, some being active researchers and some being potential users of research outcomes, to drive lateral thinking and radical approaches to addressing particular research challenges. Further information on sandpits can be found on the EPSRC website.

About EPSRC

EPSRC is the main UK government agency for funding research and training in engineering and the physical sciences, investing more than £850 million a year in a broad range of subjects - from mathematics to materials science, and from information technology to structural engineering.

Contact

Jyldyz Tabyldy kyzy (pronounced: Jill-diz Tabul-dee kooz), School of Management, Queen's University Belfast, tel: 028 9097 3685

Images are available from:

EPSRC Press Office
Tel: 01793 444404

Ref: PN 05-11