This research compares decision making patterns of two groups of subjects engaged in an international conflict against a virtual actor within a computerized simulated environment that operates according to a set of predetermined rules. Subjects assigned to the first group could attempt to improve their status by choosing from a set of different types of policies, such as negotiating an agreement, threatening, mobilizing forces, and use of force. Subjects assigned to the second group also played against a virtual opponent that was programed to behave in an identical manner and produce identical payoffs. However, instead of each policy being labeled with a substantive meaning, policies were categorized in a formal manner as Policies A, B, C, etc. Therefore the only criterion for evaluating a policy was on the basis of outcomes. The results of this experiment reveal that providing a meaning to each policy rather than a formal label influenced policy preferences and impeded the ability of the subjects to learn from experience.
Appendix: Fishing dispute microworld operation instructions
This is a simulation of an international dispute. You are requested to play the role of a government leader of a small country that has only one source of income – fishing. However, there is another country of similar size and power that does not accept your claim for sovereignty over your fishing area and therefore allows its fishing boats to fish in your waters.
Your goal as the country’s leader is to try and earn as much as possible national income, while reducing as much as possible human casualties in case a conflict erupts.
Instructions for running the simulation
When the simulation starts you will observe a window (Figure 5) that receives messages. Three types of messages can be observed:
Green messages that are labeled: “a new message has arrived”
Orange messages that simply describe the last action you have chosen
White messages that say “a day has passed” (this is a simulated day).
To the right of each message you will see the simulated time the message arrived (Day, hour, minute). The starting time is D 00:H 00:M 00.
The most important messages are the green messages, which report events. In order to read their content you must click with the mouse the message, just like you would click an email.
PLEASE NOTE: After finishing reading the message, you must close the window of the message. If the message window is not closed the simulator will get stuck and not proceed.
Under the messages screen on the right side you will find a popup menu that provides you with possible actions you might choose. Pay attention: The options that are available can change over time.
In order to make a policy choice you must first click the action you would like and then click the SEND.
PLEASE NOTE: After clicking the SEND the computer will freeze for a few seconds. This is due to a program bug. So please wait patiently. Attempting to press the ESC key or to click the mouse my result in the simulation to crash and you will have to start all over again.
On the bottom right side of the message screen you will see a button for domestic statistics. Clicking this will open a table with data that will be useful for you. The data in this table is updated every simulated day.
PLEASE NOTE: Just like the messages of events you must close the statistics window or the game will stop operating.
The simulator will close automatically at the end of the experiment. However, if you feel at any time that you would like to stop, just close the browser.
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