Thursday, 17 December 2015

Risk Aversion, and the cost of thinking: Part 1

Whilst I was fact checking for one of my last posts, I stumbled across this paper on

Risk aversion is one of the key phrases thrown around by pirates and other competitive players who bemoan the fact that newbies and less skilled capsuleers do not line up to pad out their kill boards, and we see it in most peoples' blogs and forum posts eventually.

I've never really looked up the Science behind risk aversion, so when I saw it here, I had to take a look. It's a social science paper though, so not my specialty. If any of my three readers think I've made a mistake, then please correct me.

The cost of thinking

Simply this; If you have to think about the task, it devalues the reward.

We do little cost-benefit analyses of actions we take every day. A simple example would be seeing a lollipop on the other side of the road. You will calculate the physical effort it takes to get to the lollipop against the reward of eating the lollipop. If the reward is acceptable to you, you cross the road, and devour the sweet, sugar kebab. If not, you'll continue on your way to the gym.

An EVE example would be selling an item. You see on the market a buy order in Jita 5 jumps away for 10,000 ISK, and a region wide order for 8,000 ISK. If, to you, the 2,000 ISK is worth the effort of travel, you hop in your frigate, and head to Jita. If not, you sell to the Region order.

What this study shows is not the Physical effort cost, but rather the cost of thinking about the problem; in the words of the study, how cognition devalues your reward.

Again in EVE terms, you could spend 10 minutes browsing the market for the best buy order, or you just hit sell instantly. You know you can get a better price by browsing markets, or even setting up your own sell order. But if it's a round of projectile ammunition you're looking to just clear your hangar of, then it's not really worth your thinking time.

The more you have to think about obtaining your reward, the less likely you are to even try it. To use Gevlon's language, you are a slacker, and probably a moron too for not thinking. In other terms, you are simply trying to most efficiently use your bodies current resources.

So what? Time is money. Nothing we didn't already know. What the paper tells us isn't that, and in fact suggests that time spent thinking isn't as important, but rather the effect it has on motivation to complete tasks. The more you need to think about an action, the less the perceived value of the reward, which affects your willingness to even attempt a task.

The best example of this was the old Planetary Interaction or even Scanning interfaces. To complete any of these tasks required a good deal of planning, memory load on remembering menus and options. This meant that many capsuleers were turned off from it before they even started. The reward became diminished because the thought work was too high.

On the other side of the scale, mining requires barely any thought at all. Okay, that's probably unfair to miners, who strive for efficiency with each laser cycle, but it's undeniable that fitting a laser and pointing it at a stationary rock is much lighter on the brain than say, setting up a manufacturing line. This is why many EVE capsuleers start off with mining. It has a clear reward with minimal thinking, and as discussed in a previous post, the mechanical process is well supported by a currency reward.

How this applies to risk aversion is what I'll discuss in the next post.

Just one more thing before we go. This study also shows that there isn't much of a link between task avoidance and the amount of eye movement involved. What that means in terms of EVE, is that UI layout is only important where physical movement of mice is involved... at least in terms of encouraging people to do activities.

So for an effective UI, keep your information spread out, but your action buttons clustered together. But then again, you knew how to set up your own hot keys already. Right?


  1. Nice write up. But I'm not sure how it applies to pvp. My experience is that I spent more time theory crafting a fit than flying it. For instance I spent maybe 3 days on a proteus fit to go kill goons that lasted my 5 jumps. Now this just means I'm bad but the reward of pvp justify all that thinking aND isk. So what I'm trying to say is that is all about what is fun for you. If you like pve your risk aversion to pvp is going to be high and you would rather spend hours calculating you mining stuff than 15 min on a cheap frigate in lowsec.

    1. Oh no doubt your personal experiences will vary. This experiment just shows in general how cognitive effort devalues your reward. In that case the reward of PvP was enough for you... but just think about the hundreds of other activities in EVE you're not doing because the effort isn't worth the reward.

    2. HMmmm...
      Very interesting looking forward for the next chapter.