One of the primary interests of our group is decision making in natural environments. What we want to know is what information people attend to when they go about their everyday decisions and how they process this information in order to take a particular course of action. We have, for instance studied what information people attend to on their regular shopping trips in supermarkets. We believe that if we want to understand decision making it is imperative to study the decisions that are regularly made. People adapt to settings that are often encountered and it is likely that knowledge about succesful decision strategies in these contexts carry over to less familiar settings and choices.
At the moment we are focusing on how decision processes can be traced in natural settings. If we look at prototypical decision research, it is based on paper-and-pencil tests (or computerized versions of the same), that presents limited information to participants and present it in an orderly way by, for instance, placing options and their attributes in a matrix. In contrast, real life decision-making often entails encountering information that is distributed both in space and time, is disorganized, and extensive. (It is extensive at least on surface – how much information a decision maker encounters partly depends on the time devoted to find it).
One approach, we find particularly promising, is the use of portable eye-trackers. These reveal where participants’ attention is focussed at each point in time, and thus exactly which information they are able to access.
The use of eye tracking in visual marketing and consumer choice studies have increased rapidly. The majority of these consumer studies are performed in laboratories with products presented on a monitor or as projections. The findings in these settings are often generalized to more natural environments but before this can be done, there are several issues to be considered. For instance, it is important to control for how environmental structure affects information acquisition. Another current project concerns how the placement of the products on the shelf influence the visual attention and if certain parts of the shelf receive more visual attention than others independent of the products places there.
The long-term goal of this work is to develop methods for tracking or diagnosing decision-making strategies in real life settings, despite discrepancies in what participants attend to, or what their preferences are.
If you want to read more about the research from our group, check out some of our media appearances: