Planning: Practice Makes Perfect

When it comes to planning, a recent study finds that planning skills can be learned and improved even it’s not inherent to someone’s particular nature.  Thinking ahead has been linked to better decision-making capabilities, but there hasn’t been a lot of information about how the brain achieves this. 

                To learn more about people’s “planning depth”, a team of researchers from NYU teamed up to find out if it’s possible to learn this skill.  They embellished the classic tic-tac-toe game to have more evolved decision-making steps and asked the participants playing the game to discuss their steps in a decision tree which outlined all the possible ways their moves could influence the game.  They built a computer model based on this information to better understand and extrapolate the data.

                The researchers then asked the players to observe others playing the game and to anticipate others’ moves and those following outcomes.  Humans correctly anticipated the moves half the time, so they based the computer model on that level of error. 

The biggest takeaway from the experiment is that better planning is really based on being able to pick up and identify patterns.  Better planners are able to do this with more accuracy and more quickly than those who say they’re not as good at planning.

                Learning to identify patterns with better speed and accuracy is something that can be learned, based on what the researchers saw in their computer model of the game.  This can come as welcome news to those who have weaker organizational skills.  With more practice, the cognitive ability to plan deeply can become more sophisticated.

Further Reading

van Opheusden, B., Kuperwajs, I., Galbiati, G. et al. Expertise increases planning depth in human gameplayNature, 2023 DOI: 10.1038/s41586-023-06124-2

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