Development of the PEBL traveling salesman problem computerized testbed

Shane Mueller, Michigan Technological University
Brandon S. Perelman, Michigan Technological University
Yin Yin Tan, Michigan Technological University
Kejkaew Thanasuan, Michigan Technological University

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The traveling salesman problem (TSP) is a combinatorial optimization problem that requires finding the shortest path through a set of points (“cities”) that returns to the starting point. Because humans provide heuristic near-optimal solutions to Euclidean versions of the problem, it has sometimes been used to investigate human visual problem solving ability. The TSP is also similar to a number of tasks commonly used for neuropsychological assessment (such as the trail-making test), and so its utility in assessing reliable individual differences in problem solving has sometimes been examined. Nevertheless, the task has seen little widespread use in clinical and assessment domains, in part because no standard software implementation or item set is widely available with known psychometric properties. In this paper, we describe a computerized version of TSP running in the free and open source Psychology Experiment Building Language (PEBL). The PEBL TSP task is designed to be suitable for use within a larger battery of tests, and to examine both standard and custom TSP node configurations (i.e., problems). We report the results of a series of experiments that help establish the test’s reliability and validity. The first experiment examines test-retest reliability, establishes that the quality of solutions in the TSP are not impacted by mild physiological strain, and demonstrates how solution quality obtained by individuals in a physical version is highly correlated with solution quality obtained in the PEBL version. The second experiment evaluates a larger set of problems, and uses the data to identify a small subset of tests that have maximal coherence. A third experiment examines test-retest reliability of this smaller set that can be administered in about five minutes, and establishes that these problems produce composite scores with moderately high (R =.75) test-retest reliability, making it suitable for use in many assessment situations, including evaluations of individual differences, personality, and intelligence testing.