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Why don't well-educated adults understand accumulation? A challenge to researchers, educators, and citizens

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  • Cronin, Matthew A.
  • Gonzalez, Cleotilde
  • Sterman, John D.
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    Abstract

    Accumulation is a fundamental process in dynamic systems: inventory accumulates production less shipments; the national debt accumulates the federal deficit. Effective decision making in such systems requires an understanding of the relationship between stocks and the flows that alter them. However, highly educated people are often unable to infer the behavior of simple stock-flow systems. In a series of experiments we demonstrate that poor understanding of accumulation, termed stock-flow failure, is a fundamental reasoning error. Persistent poor performance is not attributable to an inability to interpret graphs, lack of contextual knowledge, motivation, or cognitive capacity. Rather, stock-flow failure is a robust phenomenon that appears to be rooted in failure to appreciate the most basic principles of accumulation, leading to the use of inappropriate heuristics. We show that many people, including highly educated individuals with strong technical training, use what we term the "correlation heuristic", erroneously assuming that the behavior of a stock matches the pattern of its flows. We discuss the origins of stock-flow failure and implications for management and education.

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    Bibliographic Info

    Article provided by Elsevier in its journal Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes.

    Volume (Year): 108 (2009)
    Issue (Month): 1 (January)
    Pages: 116-130

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    Handle: RePEc:eee:jobhdp:v:108:y:2009:i:1:p:116-130

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    Web page: http://www.elsevier.com/locate/obhdp

    Related research

    Keywords: Dynamic decision making Cognitive capacity Accumulation Stocks and flows System dynamics;

    References

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    1. Diehl, Ernst & Sterman, John D., 1995. "Effects of Feedback Complexity on Dynamic Decision Making," Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, Elsevier, vol. 62(2), pages 198-215, May.
    2. Camerer, Colin F & Hogarth, Robin M, 1999. "The Effects of Financial Incentives in Experiments: A Review and Capital-Labor-Production Framework," Journal of Risk and Uncertainty, Springer, vol. 19(1-3), pages 7-42, December.
    3. Don N. Kleinmuntz, 1985. "Cognitive Heuristics and Feedback in a Dynamic Decision Environment," Management Science, INFORMS, vol. 31(6), pages 680-702, June.
    4. Roch, Sylvia G. & Lane, John A. S. & Samuelson, Charles D. & Allison, Scott T. & Dent, Jennifer L., 2000. "Cognitive Load and the Equality Heuristic: A Two-Stage Model of Resource Overconsumption in Small Groups," Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, Elsevier, vol. 83(2), pages 185-212, November.
    5. Sterman, John & Booth Sweeney, Linda, 2002. "Cloudy Skies: Assessing Public Understanding of Global Warming," Working papers 4361-02, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Sloan School of Management.
    6. Sterman, John D., 1989. "Misperceptions of feedback in dynamic decision making," Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, Elsevier, vol. 43(3), pages 301-335, June.
    7. Gonzalez, Cleotilde, 2005. "Decision support for real-time, dynamic decision-making tasks," Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, Elsevier, vol. 96(2), pages 142-154, March.
    8. Atkins, Paul W. B. & Wood, Robert E. & Rutgers, Philip J., 2002. "The effects of feedback format on dynamic decision making," Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, Elsevier, vol. 88(2), pages 587-604, July.
    9. John D. Sterman, 1989. "Modeling Managerial Behavior: Misperceptions of Feedback in a Dynamic Decision Making Experiment," Management Science, INFORMS, vol. 35(3), pages 321-339, March.
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    Cited by:
    1. Schaffernicht, Martin & Groesser, Stefan N., 2011. "A comprehensive method for comparing mental models of dynamic systems," European Journal of Operational Research, Elsevier, vol. 210(1), pages 57-67, April.
    2. Arango, Santiago & Moxnes, Erling, 2012. "Commodity cycles, a function of market complexity? Extending the cobweb experiment," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 84(1), pages 321-334.
    3. Strohhecker, Jürgen & Größler, Andreas, 2013. "Do personal traits influence inventory management performance?—The case of intelligence, personality, interest and knowledge," International Journal of Production Economics, Elsevier, vol. 142(1), pages 37-50.
    4. Hämäläinen, Raimo P. & Luoma, Jukka & Saarinen, Esa, 2013. "On the importance of behavioral operational research: The case of understanding and communicating about dynamic systems," European Journal of Operational Research, Elsevier, vol. 228(3), pages 623-634.
    5. Vancouver, Jeffrey B. & Weinhardt, Justin M. & Vigo, Ronaldo, 2014. "Change one can believe in: Adding learning to computational models of self-regulation," Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, Elsevier, vol. 124(1), pages 56-74.
    6. Akkermans, H.A. & Voss, C., 2013. "The service bullwhip effect," Open Access publications from Tilburg University urn:nbn:nl:ui:12-5905706, Tilburg University.

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