March 24, 2013

How Decisions Happen: Focal Points and Blind Spots in Interdependent Decision Making

Volume 106, Issue 3, pp. 398-417, doi:10.1037/a0035351
Nir Halevy

Decision makers often simplify decision problems by ignoring readily available information. The current multimethod research investigated which types of information about interdependence situations are psychologically prominent to decision makers and which tend to go unnoticed. Study 1 used eye-tracking measures to investigate how decision makers allocate their attention in interdependence situations and revealed that individuals fixated on mutual cooperation earlier and longer as compared with alternative combinations of strategies and outcomes. In addition, participants’ behavioral cooperation was consistent with their attention allocation. Study 2 introduced a novel information-search paradigm: Participants exchanged yes/no questions and answers to discover which of 25 different games their counterpart chose. Analyzing the contents of participants’ questions showed that, consistent with Study 1, participants focused primarily on desirable outcomes and symmetric behavioral choices. Study 3 revealed that outcome desirability is a robust basis of psychological prominence across different types of social relations; in contrast, the psychological prominence of symmetry was moderated by the nature of social relations. Study 4 revealed that whether different bases of psychological prominence directed individuals’ attention to the same aspects of the decision-making task moderated the effect of information availability on decision latency and cooperation rates. Taken together, these findings contribute to the mapping of bounded rationality, demonstrate how people think about their interdependence, and enhance our understanding of how decisions happen.