Cognitive modeling of multi-attribute preferential and perceptual choices
People rely on the choice context to guide their decisions, violating fundamental principles of rational choice theory and exhibiting phenomena called context effects. Recent research has uncovered that dominance relationships can both increase or decrease the choice share of the dominating option, marking the two ends of an attraction–repulsion continuum. However, empirical links between the two opposing effects are scarce and theoretical accounts are missing altogether. The present study used eye tracking alongside a within-subject design that contrasts a perceptual task and a preferential-choice analog in order to bridge this gap and uncover the underlying information-search processes. Although individuals differed in their perceptual and preferential choices, they generally engaged in alternative-wise comparisons and a repulsion effect was present in both conditions that became weaker the more predominant the attribute-wise comparisons were. To obtain a model-based characterization of individuals' behavior in terms of latent cognitive processes, we relied on the MLBA, a prominent cognitive model that is frequently used to model multi-attribute, multi-alternative choices in both the preferential and perceptual domain. Despite its past successes, the MLBA was unable to provide an accurate account of the data. Specifically, it was unable to jointly account for choices and their associated latencies, struggling the most with predicting the focal choice phenomenon, the repulsion effect. Altogether, our study corroborates the notion that repulsion effects are a robust and general phenomenon that current theoretical accounts cannot adequately account for and that need to take be taken seriously.