M.Sc Thesis

M.Sc StudentTorgovitsky Ilan
SubjectMetacognitive Perspective on Strategic Allocation of Time
Across Items
DepartmentDepartment of Industrial Engineering and Management
Supervisor ASSOCIATE PROF. Rakefet Ackerman
Full Thesis textFull thesis text - English Version


When a time limit is given for performing a complex cognitive task, consisting of several itemized sub-tasks, the best strategy is to invest less time in the hardest items, and more time on the mid-difficulty items. These can benefit the most from the investment of additional effort. However, subjects rarely behave in this efficient way, and invest most of the time in the hardest items.

In order to focus on the psychological effect of time pressure, I examined how people regulate their time when facing a set of tasks with the same time frame, defined in the instructions as loose or as pressured. My hypothesis was that under a loose framing, participants show more sensitivity to task requirements, and invest less time in the hardest items, than when they faced a pressured time framing. In the first experiment, an online sample faced a set of challenging general knowledge questions and rated their confidence in each answer. As expected, the participants were more effective in managing their time?they invested equivalent time in the hardest and mid-difficulty items?when the allotted time was framed as loose; in contrast, they invested less time in the mid-difficulty tasks and focused on the hardest items when the allotted time was framed as pressured. In the second experiment, Technion students memorized a set of word pairs, and rated their chances at recalling each pair in a later test. Again, I used the time framing manipulation, with the same time framed as loose or pressured. In addition, I hypothesized that the sense of time pressure reduces the resources directed at effective effort regulation. In order to examine this hypothesis, I used a secondary task, consisting of two difficulty levels, easy and hard, further manipulating the participants, while focusing on the main task. As expected, only under the loose time framing, the participants allocated their time investment accordingly, when faced with the different levels of the secondary task.

This study contributes to the theoretical framework of metacognitive regulation of effort. The strategic superiority of loose time limit framing, demonstrated in these experiments, may be practical for framing time limits in cognitive tasks which require efficiency (e.g., exams).