Results on human performance on the Traveling Salesman Problem (TSP) from different laboratories show high consistency. However, one exception is in the area of individual differences. While one research group has consistently failed to find systematic individual differences across instances of TSPs (Chronicle, MacGregor and Ormerod), another group (Vickers, Lee and associates) has found individual differences both within TSP performance and between TSP performance and other cognitive tasks. Among possible reasons for the conflicting results are differences in procedure and differences in the problem instances used. To try to resolve the discrepancy, we collected data on TSP performance by combining the procedure used by one group with problem instances used by the other. The comparison involved nine 30-node and nine 40-node TSP problems previously used by the Vickers group, using computer presentation. Here, we had the same problems completed by 112 participants using a paper-and-pencil mode of presentation. We examined the results in the form of distributions of correlations across individuals for each pair of problems of the same size. The distributions for the computer and paper forms of presentation were very similar, and centered between correlations of 0.20 and 0.30. The results indicated the presence of individual differences at a level that fell between those previously reported by the two laboratories. The pattern of results indicated that previous discrepancies did not arise because of differences in procedure. Instead, individual differences appeared to become more prevalent as the difficulty of problems increased. The results are consistent with an explanation that performance on simpler instances is dominated by lower-level processes, but that as instance difficulty increases, higher-level functions become increasingly involved.
Chronicle, Edward P.; MacGregor, James N.; Lee, Michael; Ormerod, Thomas C.; and Hughes, Peter
"Individual Differences in Optimization Problem Solving: Reconciling Conflicting Results,"
The Journal of Problem Solving:
1, Article 4.