Academic journal article Attention, Perception and Psychophysics

Searching for the Highest Number

Academic journal article Attention, Perception and Psychophysics

Searching for the Highest Number

Article excerpt

Published online: 27 November 2014

© The Psychonomic Society, Inc. 2014

Abstract When viewing a collection of products how does a consumer decide which one to buy? To do this task, the consumer not only needs to evaluate the desirability of the products, taking into account factors such as quality and price, but also needs to search through the products to find the most desirable one. We studied the search process using an abstraction of a common consumer choice task. In our task, observers searched an array of numbers for the highest. Crucially, the observers did not know in advance what this number would be, which made it difficult to know when the search should be terminated. In this way, our search task mimicked a problem often faced by consumers in a supermarket setting where they also may not know in advance what the most desirable product will be. We compared several computational models. We found that our data was best described by a process that assumes that observers terminate their search when they find a number that exceeds an internal threshold. Depending on the observer and the circumstances, this threshold appeared either to be fixed or to decrease over the course of the trial. This threshold can explain why in some situations the observers terminate the search without inspecting all the numbers in the display, whereas in other situations observers act in a seemingly irrational manner, continuing the search even after inspecting all the numbers.

Keywords Visual search . Satisficing Decisionmaking . Heuristics

(ProQuest: ... denotes formulae omitted.)

Introduction

Consumer spending accounts for approximately 70 % of the U.S. gross domestic product (Chandra, 2012). Understanding how consumers decide which products to buy is therefore a matter of considerable importance. A typical store may sell thousands of different products, and even within a single product category (e.g., cookies, pain relievers, pasta sauces, etc.) there can be tens or even hundreds of different options to choose from (Botti & Iyengar, 2006). To solve this decision problem, the consumers need to perform two tasks: an evaluation task and a search task. They need to evaluate the desirability of the products, taking into account factors such as quality, price, and their own individual needs while simultaneously searching through these products for the most desirable one according to these assessments.

Previous investigations have studied situations where participants were required to perform both tasks simultaneously (Krajbich et al., 2010; Reutskaja et al., 2011). However, the desirability of a product is not a stable quantity and can be influenced by a variety of factors, including the current state of the consumer, for example, their mood or how hungry they are, as well as the environment and context in which the product is presented. For example, the presence of similar products can make the original product either more or less desirable depending on the perceived relationships between the products (Tversky, 1972; Huber et al., 1982; Simonson, 1989). There is therefore a considerable advantage to isolating the search processes from the evaluation process to allow the former to be studied independently.

In our study, we wished to investigate the visual search strategy employed by observers independently of any product evaluations that the observers might normally do. To do this, we used an abstraction of a common consumer choice task. Observers were presented with arrays of numbers where each number represented the desirability of a hypothetical product. Instead of searching for the most desirable product, our observers searched for the highest number in the array. In this way, we largely removed the evaluation aspect of the task, allowing us to concentrate on the visual search aspect of the task.

Our search task is challenging, because the observers do not know in advance what the highest number will be on any given trial, which makes it difficult for them to know when the search should be terminated. …

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