Optimal decision making and matching are tied through diminishing returns [Psychological and Cognitive Sciences]
How individuals make decisions has been a matter of long-standing debate among economists and researchers in the life sciences. In economics, subjects are viewed as optimal decision makers who maximize their overall reward income. This framework has been widely influential, but requires a complete knowledge of the reward contingencies associated with a given choice situation. Psychologists and ecologists have observed that individuals tend to use a simpler “matching” strategy, distributing their behavior in proportion to relative rewards associated with their options. This article demonstrates that the two dominant frameworks of choice behavior are linked through the law of diminishing returns. The relatively simple matching can in fact provide maximal reward when the rewards associated with decision makers’ options saturate with the invested effort. Such saturating relationships between reward and effort are hallmarks of the law of diminishing returns. Given the prevalence of diminishing returns in nature and social settings, this finding can explain why humans and animals so commonly behave according to the matching law. The article underscores the importance of the law of diminishing returns in choice behavior.
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