Adapt or Exchange: Making changes within or between contexts in a modular plant scenario

  • Romy Müller (Author)
    Technische Universität Dresden, Chair of Engineering Psychology and Applied Cognitive Research, Helmholtzstraße 10, 01069 Dresden, Germany
  • Leon Urbas (Author)

Identifiers (Article)


Most psychological studies investigating the balance between stability and flexibility in decision making use specific restrictions in their scenarios. These restrictions are likely to affect decision process, and it is unclear which of the findings can be transferred to more naturalistic decision contexts that call for a balance between stability and flexibility. Therefore, the present study used a scenario that is inspired by the problem structure found in a particular domain: Adapt/Exchange decisions in modular chemical plants. In this setting, we investigated whether participants engage in a thorough comparison of options and whether they perseverate on their previous choices when decision sequences increasingly favour one or the other option. The results suggest that instead of comparing options, participants used a satisficing strategy, checking whether Adapt was good enough and only computing an Exchange solution when it was not. Sequence effects were found, but their direction was opposite to the choice perseveration predicted from the literature: In sequences initially favouring Adapt, participants started exploring the Exchange option early on, while in sequences initially demanding Exchange, they preferred Adapt as soon as it became possible. The results raise questions about the application of psychological theories to complex decisions between qualitatively different options.


Academic discipline and sub-disciplines
cognitive science; engineering psychology; applied cognitive research; process control systems engineering
Contributor or sponsoring agency
BMBF (grant number: 02K16C070); DFG (grant number: PA 1232/6-1); DFG (grant number: GRK 2323/1)
student participants
decision making; goal conflicts; stability/flexibility balance; heuristics; sequence effects; modular plants; process industries