An investigation of the role of cognitive style in dynamic decision making

Date of Completion

January 2009


Psychology, Industrial|Psychology, Cognitive




The current research aimed to accomplish two goals: to extend the work examining the relationship between individual differences and performance on dynamic decision making tasks and to use knowledge about individual differences to inform the design of a decision aid. To date, research regarding individual differences within the dynamic decision making literature has been sparse. The current work focused on cognitively oriented variables. Specifically, Study 1 examined the impact of three dimensions of cognitive style, effort, structure, and decisiveness, on performance in a firefighting microworld. A sample of 85 undergraduate psychology students completed a cognitive ability test, three measures of cognitive style (need for cognition, personal need for structure, and personal fear of invalidity scales), a short demographic questionnaire, along with six simulated firefighting tasks. Participants learned across tasks. Need for structure predicted overall performance along with several aspects of situation awareness. Interactions between decisiveness and effort, and between decisiveness and cognitive ability, predicted overall performance and situational awareness. Structure was determined to be the dominant predictor; those with high need for structure performed worse than those with low need for structure. Study 2 used knowledge gained about structure in Study 1 to inform the design of a decision aid targeted at those with a high need for structure. The aid consisted of strategy recommendations based on feedback from top performers in Study 1 and behaviors related to performance in previous research (Elliott et al., 2007). A sample of 86 undergraduate psychology students were assigned to an aid or no aid condition. The same measures and tasks were used as in Study 1; the only difference in procedure in Study 2 was the aid group received a written document with strategy recommendations. The decision aid did not enhance performance in general, nor did it specifically help those with a high need for structure. This research demonstrates the importance of exploring individual differences to identify those best suited to dynamic decision making environments. It is important to continue to explore how the decision maker, the task, and the external environment influence one another to truly understand how the decision making process unfolds and how those who struggle in these environments can be helped.^