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Abstract

To stay focused on their chosen tasks, people have to inhibit distractions. The underlying attention control skills can improve through reinforcement learning, which can be accelerated by giving feedback. We applied the theory of metacognitive reinforcement learning to develop a training app that gives people optimal feedback on their attention control while they are working or studying. In an eight-day field experiment with 99 participants, we investigated the effect of this training on people's productivity, sustained attention, and self-control. Compared to a control condition without feedback, we found that participants receiving optimal feedback learned to focus increasingly better (f = .08, p < .01) and achieved higher productivity scores (f = .19, p < .01) during the training. In addition, they evaluated their productivity more accurately (r = .12, p < .01). However, due to asymmetric attrition problems, these findings need to be taken with a grain of salt.
How to navigate everyday distractions:
Leveraging optimal feedback to train attention control
Maria Wirzberger1,2,3, Anastasia Lado1,4, Lisa Eckerstorfer1, Ivan Oreshnikov1, Jean-Claude
Passy1, Adrian Stock1, Amitai Shenhav5 & Falk Lieder1
1Max Planck Institute for Intelligent Systems, Tübingen, Germany
2University of Stuttgart, Institute of Educational Science, Stuttgart, Germany
3LEAD Graduate School & Research Network, University of Tübingen, Germany
4Graduate Training Center for Neuroscience, Tübingen, Germany
5Department of Cognitive, Linguistic, and Psychological Sciences, Brown University, Providence,
Rhode Island, United States
To stay focused on their chosen tasks, people have to inhibit distractions. The underlying
attention control skills can improve through reinforcement learning, which can be accelerated
by giving feedback. We applied the theory of metacognitive reinforcement learning to develop
a training app that gives people optimal feedback on their attention control while they are
working or studying. In an eight-day field experiment with 99 participants, we investigated the
effect of this training on people’s productivity, sustained attention, and self-control. Compared
to a control condition without feedback, we found that participants receiving optimal feedback
learned to focus increasingly better (f = .08, p < .01) and achieved higher productivity scores
(f = .19, p < .01) during the training. In addition, they evaluated their productivity more
accurately (r = .12, p < .01). However, due to asymmetric attrition problems, these findings
need to be taken with a grain of salt.
... providing people with tools that can perform some of the informationprocessing operations of good decision-making for them (e.g., decision support systems) -information systems for solving societal problems (Slattery et al., 2021) -apps that help people set or pursue (socially beneficial) goals (Lieder et al., 2019;Wirzberger, et al., 2020Wirzberger, et al., , 2022. ...
Article
Full-text available
People’s intentional pursuit of prosocial goals and values (i.e., well-doing) is critical to the flourishing of humanity in the long run. Understanding and promoting well-doing is a shared goal across many fields inside and outside of social and personality psychology. Several of these fields are (partially) disconnected from each other and could benefit from more integration of existing knowledge, interdisciplinary collaboration, and cross-fertilization. To foster the transfer and integration of knowledge across these different fields, we provide a brief overview with pointers to some of the key articles in each field, highlight connections, and introduce an integrative model of the psychological mechanisms of well-doing. We identify some gaps in the current understanding of well-doing, such as the paucity of research on well-doing with large and long-lasting positive consequences. Building on this analysis, we identify opportunities for high-impact research on well-doing in social and personality psychology, such as understanding and promoting the effective pursuit of highly impactful altruistic goals.
... For instance, the perspective that mental strategies are acquired through metacognitive reinforcement learning Krueger et al., 2017;Lieder et al., 2018; suggests that strategy discovery can be accelerated by giving frequent, immediate, and reliable feedback that aligns the rewards people experience with the quality of their mental operations Lieder et al., under review;Lieder, 2018;Lieder, Krueger, Callaway, et al., 2017). To apply this principle in the real-world, our group has recently developed an attention control training app that gives people immediate feedback on how well they manage to stay focussed on their tasks while they are working (Wirzberger et al., 2020). This approach sidesteps the problem of transfer by enabling people to directly train the skills that matter. ...
Preprint
Full-text available
People’s intentional pursuit of prosocial goals and values (i.e., well-doing) is critical to the flourishing of humanity in the long run. But some of the most socially-beneficial pursuits are often neglected because they are unintuitive. To choose such pursuits people have to apply critical thinking and far-sighted decision-making in the service of excellent moral values. This approach can be taught and facilitated. But there is only very little psychological research on effective well-doing and how it can be promoted. This makes developing interventions for promoting effective well-doing one of the most valuable contributions psychology can make in the 21st century. To seize this opportunity, we need to better understand the determinants and psychological mechanisms of effective well-doing, as well as the barriers to effective well-doing and how they can be overcome through interventions and personal development. We review relevant previous work and highlight important open questions. To stimulate more research on these questions, we propose a tentative list of 20 grand challenges for understanding and promoting well-doing, fostering personal growth, and reducing ill-doing. Finally, we survey some emerging approaches to these challenges.
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