Imagining the good: An offline tendency to simulate good options even when no decision has to be made

AbstractEven when we are not faced with any decision, we sometimes engage in offline cognition where we simulate various possible actions we can take. In these instances, which options do we tend to simulate? Computational models have suggested that it is better to focus our limited cognitive resources towards simulating and refining our representations of options that appear, at first blush, to have higher values. Two experimental studies explore whether we use this strategy. Participants went through an ‘offline’ thinking phase, and an ‘online’ decision-making phase. Participants first freely viewed various options, which they had to simulate to determine their actual values. They were later asked to decide between good or bad options. Offline simulation produced faster online response times for the options that appeared to have higher values, indicating a pre-computation benefit for these items. These results suggest that people focus their offline cognition on the apparently good.

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