Decision Theoretic Foundations for Experiments Evaluating Human Decisions


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Decision-making with information displays is a key focus of research in areas like explainable AI, human-AI teaming, and data visualization. However, what constitutes a decision problem, and what is required for an experiment to be capable of concluding that human decisions are flawed in some way, remain open to speculation. We present a widely applicable definition of a decision problem synthesized from statistical decision theory and information economics. We argue that to attribute loss in human performance to forms of bias, an experiment must provide participants with the information that a rational agent would need to identify the normative decision. We evaluate the extent to which recent evaluations of decision-making from the literature on AI-assisted decisions achieve this criteria. We find that only 6 (17%) of 35 studies that claim to identify biased behavior present participants with sufficient information to characterize their behavior as deviating from good decision-making. We motivate the value of studying well-defined decision problems by describing a characterization of performance losses they allow us to conceive. In contrast, the ambiguities of a poorly communicated decision problem preclude normative interpretation. We conclude with recommendations for practice.
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