Academic journal article Memory & Cognition

Deciding with the Eye: How the Visually Manipulated Accessibility of Information in Memory Influences Decision Behavior

Academic journal article Memory & Cognition

Deciding with the Eye: How the Visually Manipulated Accessibility of Information in Memory Influences Decision Behavior

Article excerpt

Published online: 12 November 2013

© The Author(s) 2013. This article is published with open access at

Abstract Decision situations are typically characterized by uncertainty: Individuals do not know the values of different options on a criterion dimension. For example, consumers do not know which is the healthiest of several products. To make a decision, individuals can use information about cues that are probabilistically related to the criterion dimension, such as sugar content or the concentration of natural vitamins. In two experiments, we investigated how the accessibility of cue information in memory affects which decision strategy individuals rely on. The accessibility of cue information was manipulated by means of a newly developed paradigm, the spatial-memory-cueing paradigm, which is based on a combination of the looking-at-nothing phenomenon and the spatial-cueing paradigm. The results indicated that people use different decision strategies, depending on the validity of easily accessible information. If the easily accessible information is valid, people stop information search and decide according to a simple take-the-best heuristic. If, however, information that comes to mind easily has a low predictive validity, people are more likely to integrate all available cue information in a compensatory manner.

Keywords Decision making . Memory . Spatial attention . Accessibility . Visual salience

Imagine that you are shopping for breakfast cereal. As you reach the supermarket shelf, you are stunned by the multitude of different products, ranging from healthy-looking granola to fancy peanut butter oatmeal. You hesitate for a moment, and then grab a package of oat cereals. Back home you wonder why you have chosen this product and not one of the presumably tasty cornflakes.

Sometimes we deliberately control which stimuli in our environment we pay attention to. This kind of attentional control is assumed to be goal-driven and based on top-down processing (Egeth & Yantis, 1997;James,1890). Sometimes, however, our attention is captured by a stimulus in a bottom- up fashion, irrespective of the current goals (Itti & Koch, 2000, 2001; Parkhurst, Law, & Niebur, 2002;Parkhurst& Niebur, 2004). For example, studies addressing the "pop-up effect" have shown that salient stimuli can capture attention involuntarily (Pashler, 1988;Theeuwes,1991, 1992). Marketing takes advantage of these effects. For instance, companies use unusual packages that "stick out" to increase the recognition value of their brand (Kardes, 1999). Chandon and Wansink (2002) manipulated the visual salience of different convenience goods by varying the product placement (top shelf vs. lower shelf) or the color contrast of the label (high vs. low contrast). As expected, salient products were morelikelytobeconsumedthanlesssalientproducts. Accordingly, you might have chosen oat cereals because of their eye-catching package.

Anotherlineofresearchexpandedthisapproachfroman object level (decision objects vary with regard to their salience) to a feature level (certain pieces of information about decision objects are more salient than other information). In a preference task by Mandel and Johnson (2002), participants had to choose between different products, such as cars. Their results indicated that participants who were primed with a certain feature (e.g., safety vs. price) preferred those products that excelled on the respective feature. These results were replicated in judgment tasks in which participants had to estimate, for example, the price of different products (Shah &Oppenheimer,2007). Perceptually fluent information was shown to affect judgments more strongly than disfluent information. These studies provide another explanation for your decision to purchase oat cereals: You might have chosen them because a certain feature on the package (e.g., a sign saying "low sugar content"), but not the product as such, attracted your attention. …

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