Quantum Minds

Quantum Minds peeks into your mind when you play a game based on the laws of quantum physics. Help us figure out how anyone can become a quantum physicist by playing games!

The science




Jana Jarecki

Research fellow at the Economic Psychology Lab at the University Basel, Switzerland.

Quantum Minds aims at uncovering human learning strategies. The goal is to explain how some players achieve very good results in the Quantum game challenges, particularly given the computational complexity of the task. To this end, Quantum Minds was developed from a cognitive science standpoint.

Cognitive science investigates the ways in which people attend to information, process information, and make judgements and decisions – briefly: how people think. One of the core questions in this field is how the mind performs rather complex tasks (like catching a ball out of the air, navigation in space, recognizing faces). "Rather complex" being defined as computationally effortful given the capacity limits of human minds. Such capacity limits consist in, for example, working memory limitations, attention span constraints, and limits regarding the maximum processing time to be allocated to such a problem.

The theoretical background for the hypothesis underlying the Quantum Minds game comes from a series of recent findings in cognitive psychology. While a number of early studies on human judgment and decision making in the 1940's and 50's tended to see human reasoning as biased and flawed, due to the aforementioned capacity constraints (e.g., Kahneman & Tversky, 1979), recent evidence points toward the mind as smartly limited. A growing body of evidence shows that when problems are presented in a different format (while being logically equivalent to the original tasks) humans have the ability to reason according to axioms of probability theory or logics (Gigerenzer, 1991; Tooby & Cosmides, 1992).

Moreover, humans actually rely on their capacity limits to make better inferences. For example, one study investigated how accurately people can judge which of two cities has a larger population. Surprisingly, participants from US-America judged German cities more accurately than participants from Germany. The reason for the phenomenon was a simple mental heuristic: The US-Americans relied mostly on recognition (do I recognize the city name? If yes, it is bigger.) to discriminate which city had the greater population (Gigerenzer & Goldstein, 1999). Recognition of a city name correlates with how often cities are mentioned in the newspapers, which in turn correlates with the actual size of the city. Therefore, the use of recognition (which is one single piece of information only) by the US-American participants made them outperform the German participants.

In the same manner, we believe that the participants in the Quantum Minds game may have mental shortcuts which they use to learn to play the game. The players who achieve very high scores quickly and reliably may not be the players with the most complex or sophisticated strategies to play the game. Maybe they rely on a few selected but useful pieces of information in order to achieve high performance.

Play Quantum Minds to help us figure out the amazing capabilities of the human mind!

1 – Gigerenzer, G. (1991). How to make cognitive illusions disappear: Beyond "heuristics and biases." European Review of Social Psychology, 2(1), 83–115. doi:10.1080/14792779143000033
2 – Gigerenzer, G., & Goldstein, D. G. (1999). Betting on one good reason: The take the best heuristic. In G. Gigerenzer, P. M. Todd, & the ABC Research Group (Eds.), Simple Heuristics That Make Us Smart (pp. 75–95). New York: Oxford University Press.
3 – Kahneman, D., & Tversky, A. (1979). Prospect theory: An analysis of decision under risk. Econometrica, 47(3), 263–291. doi:10.2307/1914185
4 – Tooby, J., & Cosmides, L. (1992). The psychological foundations of culture. In The Adapted Mind: Evolutionary Psychology and the Generation of Culture (pp. 19–136). Oxford University Press. doi:10.4324/9781410608994