The Elusiveness of Context Effects in Decision Making

Authors: Mikhail Spektor, Sudeep Bahtia and Sebastian Gluth

Trends in Cognitive Sciences, August, 2021

Contextual features influence human and non-human decision making, giving rise to preference reversals. Decades of research have documented the species and situations in which these effects are observed. More recently, however, researchers have focused on boundary conditions, that is, settings in which established effects disappear or reverse. This work is scattered across academic disciplines and some results appear to contradict each other. We synthesize recent findings and resolve apparent contradictions by considering them in terms of three core categories of decision context: spatial arrangement, attribute concreteness, and deliberation time. We suggest that these categories could be understood using theories of choice representation, which specify how context shapes the information over which deliberation processes operate.