Cognitive and Neural Mechanisms of Contextual Influences on Consumer Choice
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Financial decision-making in a complex and dynamic world poses many challenges including which information to use, how to filter out distractions, and how to arrive at a decision strategy that balances effort and accuracy in the face of imperfect information and cognitive constraints. Traditional financial education methods that provide more information to consider and thus require expending additional time and energy have had limited efficacy in improving long-term decision-making capacity. The research presented here takes a different approach by exploring the influence of context on the construction of value to elucidate mechanisms in consumer choice that underlie individual differences in decision-making. This approach uses computational modeling to identify the component parts of decision-making, eye tracking to measure attentional processes and information gathering strategies during choice, and functional neuroimaging (fMRI) to characterize how social networks modulate value representations in the brain. Characterizing the underpinnings of decision-making can help pinpoint which individual differences in the decision process lead to different choices. The research presented reveals that patience in intertemporal choice results from rapid, attribute-wise comparison of amounts with minimal attention paid to time information, whereas impatience results from slower integration of time and amount within options. Furthermore, measuring attention in purchasing behavior shows that budget size can influence the value of items through a comparison process with price. Finally, a public social context influences motivation for rewards for self but does not affect motivation to earn for charity. This mechanistic approach to understanding value construction and evidence accumulation in choice can help offer strategies grounded in human cognition for people to better adapt to their financial situation, hopefully increasing the likelihood of longer-term impact.
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