Abstract for: Bathtub Dynamics Revisited: Does Educational Background Matter?

Prior studies ascribed people’s poor performance in dealing with basic systems concepts to different causes. While results indicate that, among other things, domain specific experience and familiarity with the problem context play a role in this stock-flow-(SF-)performance, this has not yet been fully clarified. In this article, we present an experiment that examines the role of educational background in SF-performance. We hypothesize that SF-performance increases when the problem context is embedded in the problem solver’s knowledge domain, indicated by educational background. Using the square wave pattern and the sawtooth pattern tasks from the initial study by Booth Sweeney and Sterman (2000), we design two additional cover stories for the former, the Vehicle story from the engineering domain and the Application story from the business domain, next to the original Bathtub story. We then test the three sets of questions on business students. Results mainly support our hypothesis. Interestingly, participants even do better on a more complex behavioral pattern from their knowledge domain than on a simpler pattern from more distant domains. Although these findings have to be confirmed by further studies, they contribute both to the methodology of future surveys and the context familiarity discussion.