Built into this new model is the ability to run multiple trials and to learn from them. The results account for change based on experience, with parameters for preference that can allow for change or leave the subject mired in superstitious habit. So no longer is the subject basing a decision on a single event, one rustle in the trees. Now what happened in the last 10 or more trials has an impact. The results tend to follow common sense: you will dump an old superstition if it is not too expensive in comparison with your old ways—the model predicts what we tend to see in real life.
This model tests the robustness of superstitions, and how they might persist in the face of contradictory evidence. The more times you carry a lucky charm the more likely you will be convinced it doesn't work, surprisingly only if you originally believed it would. If you doubted it in the first place, a large number of trials might present you with enough positive experiences so that you might very well begin to believe.
"Their work is helpful," said Marc Mangel, professor of mathematics at the University of California, Santa Cruz. "It shows how these adaptive learning mechanisms can be leading us to places we shouldn't go."
But Killeen thinks something is left out of their model, elegant as he thinks it is.
"Sometimes simpler answers suffice; for beasts like us who are never quite sure that we are well enough informed, taking that multivitamin and knocking wood puts the semblance of control back in our hands, and that feels good," Killeen said.
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