Attraction comes from many sources: Attentional and comparative processes in decoy effects

Marco Marini

Alessandro Ansani

Fabio Paglieri

The attraction effect emerges when adding a seemingly irrelevant option (decoy) to a binary choice shifts preference towards a target option. This suggests that choice behaviour is dynamic, i.e., choice values are developed during deliberation, rather than manifesting some pre-existing preference set. Whereas several models of multi alternative and multiattribute decision making consider dynamic choice processes as crucial to explain the attraction effect, empirically investigating the exact nature of such processes requires complementing choice output with other data. In this study, we focused on asymmetrically dominated
decoys (i.e., decoys that are clearly dominated only by the target option) to examine the attentional and comparative processes responsible for the attraction effect. Through an eye-tracker paradigm, we showed that the decoy option can affect subjects’ preferences in two different and not mutually exclusive ways: by focusing the attention on the salient option and the dominance attribute, and by increasing comparisons with the choice dominant pattern. Although conceptually and procedurally distinct, both pathways for decoy effects produce an increase in preferences for the target option, in line with attentional and dynamic models of decision making. Eye-tracking data provide further details to the verification of such models, by highlighting the context-dependent nature of attention and the development of similarity-driven competitive decisional processes.

This experiment was run on iMotions, an IT software designed to integrate behavioural outcome and biosensors data: the study consisted of a single session that lasted from 15 to 30 minutes.

Keywords: attraction effect, decoy effect, context effects, attention, decision making, eye-tracking

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