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Decisions in Real Time


IGERT trainee Nicolette Sullivan and IGERT faculty Antonio Rangel have developed a methodology for better understanding the time-course of binary choices. The technique employs computational approaches to using the trajectory of computer mouse movements to understand the evolution of the decision process in real-time. They have applied this method to choice tasks requiring self-control, and it has allowed them to understand how and when different components of the choice become influential in the decision process. In particular, they find that when choosing between two foods, the health properties of a food come on-line in the decision process much later than the taste of foods does, and that these timing differences are predictive of overall self-control ability. In combining this technique with eye-tracking, they have found that the eye and hand may represent different types of information on the decision process. This series of experiments is in preparation for publication, was presented in a poster at the 2012 Society for Neuroeconomics conference, and will be presented this year in a talk at The Max Planck Institute for Human Development in Berlin’s Decision Making Workshop.

Address Goals

This research provides a new understanding of the temporal dynamics of decision-making, advancing our knowledge of how everyday decisions. Not only does this advance the frontiers of knowledge, but it promises to provide an important learning component that will enhance the literacy of all citizens in terms of how they make decisions. By understanding how decisions are made in terms of when different components are considered, all citizens may better inform their own decisions. This may ultimately lead to important public benefits in terms of making better, and healthier, decisions.