The Somatic Marker Hypothesis suggests that normal subjects are "foreseeable" and ventromedial prefrontal patients are "myopic" in making decisions, as the behavior shown in the Iowa Gambling Task. The present study questions previous findings because of the existing confounding between long-term outcome (expected value, EV) and gain-loss frequency variables in the Iowa Gambling Task (IGT). A newly and symmetrically designed gamble, namely the Soochow Gambling Task (SGT), with a high-contrast EV between bad (A, B) and good (C, D) decks, is conducted to clarify the issue about IGT confounding. Based on the prediction of EV (a basic assumption of IGT), participants should prefer to choose good decks C and D rather than bad decks A and B in SGT. In contrast, according to the prediction of gain-loss frequency, subjects should prefer the decks A and B because they possessed relatively the high-frequency gain.
The present experiment was performed by 48 participants (24 males and 24 females). Most subjects are college students recruited from different schools. Each subject played the computer version SGT first and completed a questionnaire for identifying their final preference. The IGT experimental procedure was mostly followed to assure a similar condition of decision uncertainty.
The SGT experiment demonstrated that the prediction of gain-loss frequency is confirmed. Most subjects preferred to choose the bad decks A and B than good decks C and D. The learning curve and questionnaire data indicate that subjects can not "hunch" the EV throughout the game. Further analysis of the effect of previous choice demonstrated that immediate gain increases the probability to stay at the same deck.
SGT provides a balanced structure to clarify the confounding inside IGT and demonstrates that gain-loss frequency rather than EV guides decision makers in these high-ambiguity gambles. Additionally, the choice behavior is mostly following the "gain-stay, lose-randomize" strategy to cope with the uncertain situation. As demonstrated in SGT, immediate gain can bring about a long-term loss under uncertainty. This empirical result may explain some shortsighted behaviors in real life.