# Decide now or wait for something better?

June 18, 2020Be it booking flight tickets, buying a car or finding a new apartment, we always come up against the same question: Should I strike while the iron's hot, or wait until a better offer comes along? People often find it difficult to make decisions when options are presented not simultaneously but one after another. This becomes even more difficult when time is limited and an offer that you turn down now may no longer be available later.

"We have to make decisions like this countless times every day, from the small ones like looking for a parking space to the big ones like buying a house or even choosing a partner," says Christiane Baumann, a doctoral candidate in the Department of Psychology of the University of Zurich. "However, until now, the way we behave in such situations has never been thoroughly examined." Under the leadership of cognitive psychologist Bettina von Helversen (previously UZH, now University of Bremen) and in collaboration with Professor Sam Gershman (Harvard University), Baumann carried out numerous experiments to investigate this issue. Using the results, she then developed a simple mathematical model for the strategy that people use when they make decisions.

**Is there an optimal process?**

It is easy, using a computer, to find the best-possible process for making decisions of this type. "But the human brain is not capable of carrying out the complex calculations that are required, so humans use a rather simplified strategy," says Baumann.

Baumann simulated purchasing situations with up to 200 participants in each test in order to find out what strategies people use. In one test, the participants were told to try to get a flight ticket as cheaply as possible - they were given 10 offers one after the other in which the price fluctuated; meanwhile the fictional departure date was getting nearer and nearer. In another test, people had to get the best possible deal on products such as groceries or kitchen appliances, with the fluctuating prices taken from an online shop.

**Expectations driven down**

The evaluation of the experiments confirmed that the test participants did not use the optimal, yet complex, strategy calculated by the computer. Instead, Baumann discovered that they use a "linear threshold model": "The price that I am prepared to pay increases every day by the same amount. That is, the further along I am in the process, the higher the price I will accept," explains Baumann.

This principle can be applied not only to purchasing decisions, but also situations such as choice of an employer or a life partner: "At the beginning perhaps my standards are high. But over time they may lower so that in the end I may settle for someone I would have rejected in the beginning."

**A model to stimulate the human strategy**

Baumann analyzed the experimental data and developed a mathematical model that describes human behavior in various scenarios. "That helps us to better understand decision-making," says Baumann. The model also allows us to predict the circumstances in which we tend to buy a product too early - or when we delay too long and then have to take whatever is left in the end.

Baumann thinks these findings could help people make difficult decisions in future: "In the current digital world the amount of information available for decision-making can be overwhelming. Our work provides a starting point for a better understanding of when people succeed or fail in such tasks. That could enable us to structure decision-making problems, for example in online shopping, in such a way that people are supported in navigating the flood of data."

-end-

Funding: The study was supported by the Swiss National Science Foundation.University of Zurich

## Related Mathematical Model Articles from Brightsurf:

A mathematical model facilitates inventory management in the food supply chain

A research study in the Diverfarming project integrates transport resources and inventory management in a model that seeks economic efficiency and to avoid shortages

Mathematical modelling to prevent fistulas

It is better to invest in measures that make it easier for women to visit a doctor during pregnancy than measures to repair birth injuries.

Predicting heat death in species more reliable with new mathematical model

An international research with the involvement of the Universitat AutÃ²noma de Barcelona (UAB), published in Science, has developed a new dynamic mathematical model which represents a change in paradigm in predicting the probability of heat-related mortality in small species.

Using a Gaussian mathematical model to define eruptive stages of young volcanic rocks

Precise dating of young samples since the Quaternary has been a difficult problem in the study of volcanoes and surface environment.

Moffitt mathematical model predicts patient outcomes to adaptive therapy

In an article published in Nature Communications, Moffitt Cancer Center researchers provide a closer look at a mathematical model and data showing that individual patient alterations in the prostate-specific antigen (PSA) biomarker early in cancer treatment can predict outcomes to later treatment cycles of adaptive therapy.

New mathematical model can more effectively track epidemics

As COVID-19 spreads worldwide, leaders are relying on mathematical models to make public health and economic decisions.

Mathematical model could lead to better treatment for diabetes

MIT researchers have developed a mathematical model that can predict the behavior of glucose-responsive insulin in humans and in rodents.

New mathematical model reveals how major groups arise in evolution

Researchers at Uppsala University and the University of Leeds presents a new mathematical model of patterns of diversity in the fossil record, which offers a solution to Darwin's ''abominable mystery'' and strengthens our understanding of how modern groups originate.

Mathematical model reveals behavior of cellular enzymes

Mathematical modeling helps researchers to understand how enzymes in the body work to ensure normal functioning.

New mathematical model for amyloid formation

Scientists report on a mathematical model for the formation of amyloid fibrils.

Read More: Mathematical Model News and Mathematical Model Current Events

A research study in the Diverfarming project integrates transport resources and inventory management in a model that seeks economic efficiency and to avoid shortages

Mathematical modelling to prevent fistulas

It is better to invest in measures that make it easier for women to visit a doctor during pregnancy than measures to repair birth injuries.

Predicting heat death in species more reliable with new mathematical model

An international research with the involvement of the Universitat AutÃ²noma de Barcelona (UAB), published in Science, has developed a new dynamic mathematical model which represents a change in paradigm in predicting the probability of heat-related mortality in small species.

Using a Gaussian mathematical model to define eruptive stages of young volcanic rocks

Precise dating of young samples since the Quaternary has been a difficult problem in the study of volcanoes and surface environment.

Moffitt mathematical model predicts patient outcomes to adaptive therapy

In an article published in Nature Communications, Moffitt Cancer Center researchers provide a closer look at a mathematical model and data showing that individual patient alterations in the prostate-specific antigen (PSA) biomarker early in cancer treatment can predict outcomes to later treatment cycles of adaptive therapy.

New mathematical model can more effectively track epidemics

As COVID-19 spreads worldwide, leaders are relying on mathematical models to make public health and economic decisions.

Mathematical model could lead to better treatment for diabetes

MIT researchers have developed a mathematical model that can predict the behavior of glucose-responsive insulin in humans and in rodents.

New mathematical model reveals how major groups arise in evolution

Researchers at Uppsala University and the University of Leeds presents a new mathematical model of patterns of diversity in the fossil record, which offers a solution to Darwin's ''abominable mystery'' and strengthens our understanding of how modern groups originate.

Mathematical model reveals behavior of cellular enzymes

Mathematical modeling helps researchers to understand how enzymes in the body work to ensure normal functioning.

New mathematical model for amyloid formation

Scientists report on a mathematical model for the formation of amyloid fibrils.

Read More: Mathematical Model News and Mathematical Model Current Events

Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.