Strategic Task Decomposition in Joint Action

Cognitive Science 47 (7):e13316 (2023)
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Abstract

The core of human cooperation is people's ability to perform joint actions. Frequently, this requires effectively decomposing a joint task into individual subtasks, for example, when jointly shopping at the market to buy food. Surprisingly, little is known about how collaborators balance the costs of establishing a joint strategy for such decompositions and its expected benefits for a joint goal. We created a new online task that required pairs of randomly matched participants to jointly collect colored items. We then systematically varied the cognitive costs and benefits of applying a color‐splitting strategy. The results showed that pairs adopted a color‐splitting strategy more often when necessary to lower cognitive costs. However, once the strategy was jointly adopted, it continued to be used even when the cost–benefits changed. Our results provide first insights on how people decompose joint tasks into individual components and how decomposition strategies may evolve into conventions.

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