ASC Alumni to Develop Video Game to Train Adults How to Overcome Critical Decision-Making Biases

Left: Jennifer Stromer-Galley, Ph.D. (Gr '02); Kate Kenski, Ph.D. (Gr '06); Rosa Mikeal Martey, Ph.D. (Gr '06) and Adrienne Shaw, Ph.D. (Gr '10)

Four Annenberg School for Communication alumni are part of a multi-disciplinary team that is developing a computer game to train people to recognize cognitive biases they routinely use when confronted with incomplete information or operating under time pressure. Such biases can lead to bad decisions in critical matters, including national security.

Professor Jennifer Stromer-Galley (Gr ’02) at the University at Albany, SUNY, Professor Kate Kenski (Gr ’06) at the University of Arizona, Professor Rosa Mikeal Martey (Gr ’06) at Colorado State University, and Dr. Adrienne Shaw (Gr ’10) at Colorado State University are working with a team of researchers lead by Professor Tomek Strzalkowski at the University at Albany to develop a non-commercial video game to help players recognize their biases and learn not to depend on decision-making shortcuts when processing and assessing information.  

"This project advances educational game research by systematically and experimentally identifying a serious game design that leads to most effective learning” explained Stromer-Galley “Our objective is to turn computer games, which people generally view as entertainment, into powerful learning tools.”

The 50-month CYCLES project (Cycles of Your Cognitive Learning, Expectations, and Schema) project is supported by a $8.7-million contract from the U.S. Air Force, and is sponsored by the Sirius Program of the Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity (IARPA), an arm of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, which heads the nation's intelligence services.  

In partnership with game company 1st Playable Productions, the CYCLES project will develop a computer game that will teach players how to recognize six common cognitive decision-making biases: confirmation bias, fundamental attribution bias, bias blind spot, representativeness bias, anchoring bias and projection bias.   Although people are hard wired to attend to certain information and disregard other information when making decisions, that game will train them to become more aware of this process. “Our game will provide ways of thinking to minimize the cognitive processes that lead to biased decision making” explained Martey.  

The team of researchers will conduct a series of experiments with undergraduate students at Colorado State University, the University of Arizona, and the University at Albany, SUNY to test various game mechanics’ effect on learning about decision making and cognitive biases. They also are working with consultants from the intelligence community to make sure the game is ultimately relevant to analysts.   Kenski explained “We hope for people to learn about these biases and to think differently when faced with a decision where they don't have all the information and time they want.”  

Stromer-Galley and Martey bring valuable experience and knowledge to the project of online interaction and games from prior research on Second Life and The Sims Online published in New Media & Society and Games & Culture. Kenski offers essential expertise to the project from her analysis of the large, complex datasets from the National Annenberg Election Studies and published in her most recent co-authored book The Obama Victory: How media, money, and message shaped the 2008 election. Shaw brings her in-depth knowledge of games and the video game industry to the project as seen in her recent scholarship in Games & Culture and Global Media Journal.