Mouse Trajectories Reveal Effects of Exogenous Regulatory Cues and Varied Stimulus Attribute Processing on Consumer Choice
- Cendri Hutcherson, Postdoctoral Scholar in Neuroeconomics, California Institute of Technology
- Antonio Rangel, Professor of Economics and Neuroscience, California Institute of Technology
The brain makes simple choices by employing dynamic computational processes first to assign values to options under consideration, and then to compare these values to make a choice. A major challenge for researchers is to measure the temporal course of this process in order to answer questions about the nature of decision-making. For example, are intrinsic attributes, such as food taste, considered more rapidly than goal-oriented attributes, such as food health? What impact does this have on how people choose? To examine these questions, taste and health ratings of 23 subjects were compared to behavior during food choices made in the presence of the following regulatory cues: “Consider the Tastiness”, “Consider the Healthiness”, “Respond Naturally”. As participants chose between foods, dynamic hand movements were recorded using a computer mouse. Regulatory cues were effective in altering mouse trajectories and final choices during food selection. Behaviorally, we found that subjects made healthier choices in the presence of health cues, and that health had a more dominant influence through the choice during the health emphasis condition. Regression analyses on the effects of health and taste ratings on mouse position over time revealed that taste had a privileged, early influence on food selection compared to health, consistent with our hypotheses. This approach to decision-making is unique because it draws parallels between the information integration reflected in mouse movements with neural computations. Future work will need to address challenges of this approach, including the tendency of some participants to move the mouse only after they have already made a final choice mentally, limiting the information captured by mouse tracking. This study has practical applications in advertising, educational materials, and other forms of day-to-day visual stimuli.