2007-04-21

Implicit knowledge in complex system control

What does it take to be a successful manager or politician? In Psychology, tasks that these groups face on an everyday basis are called complex problems. Complex problems are characterized by their dynamics (the system that is being altered during problem solving is constantly changing on its own), by the fact that multiple goals have to be achieved at the same time and by their network structure: changes to one variable usually lead to changes of other variables as well.
Experimental Psychology simulates complex problems with computer-simulated dynamic scenarios, also referred to as microworlds; computer games that place the subject into the role of a manager of a factory or a mayor of a small city. Over a simulated period of time, the subject has to improve some target value (e.g. factory profit or item sales) and has a variety of variables that he can change for influencing the system (e.g. number of machines, number of employees, wages, welfare, advertising budget etc).
The current state of research argues that it does not require a special skill for complex problem solving, but that complex problem solving ability is determined by a person's intelligence, especially his/her ability to process information, and by a person's knowledge of the problem domain, i.e. structure of the system. However, research has also shown that with longer experience of system control, subjects tend to show better problem solving abilities without showing an increase in verbalizable knowledge. The question whether this was a sign for implicit knowledge or just some artifact has been heavily debated.
In my experiment, I devided my subjects in two groups. One group learned how to control a complex scenario from texts, the other group also and learned from texts and was able to try out the scenario during the learning period. Both groups scored equal in a post-learning test for verbalizable system knowledge, but the group that had experience with the szenario performed better during actual scenario control. This dissociation between verbalizable knowledge and increased scenario performance is a clear indication for the development of implicit knowledge.
On top of that, the group with experience learning showed a higher density in knowledge organization in my Association Structure Test (AST). This supports my theory that implicit knowledge correlates with a higher density in knowledge organization (which can be found here).

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