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Open Access Publications from the University of California

To each their own theory: Exploring the limits of individual differences in decisions under risk


Theories in cognitive science are primarily aimed at explaining human behavior in general, appealing to universal constructs such as perception or attention. When it is considered, modeling of individual differences is typically performed by adapting model parameters. The implicit assumption of this standard approach is that people are relatively similar, employing the same basic cognitive processes in a given problem domain. In this work, we consider a broader evaluation of the way in which people may differ. We evaluate 23 models of risky choice on around 300 individuals, and find that most models---spanning various constructs from heuristic rules and attention to regret and subjective perception---explain the behavior of different subpopulations of individuals. These results may account for part of the difficulty in obtaining a single elegant explanation of behavior in some long-studied domains, and suggest a more serious consideration of individual variability in theory comparisons going forward.

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