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Modeling Eye Movements and Response Times in Consumer Choice

Ian Krajbich and Stephanie M. Smith


Peoples’ choices are not instantaneous, nor are they perfectly self consistent. While these two facts may at first seem unrelated, they are in fact inextricably linked. Decision scientists are accustomed to using logit and probit models to account for “noise” in their choice data. But what is the driving force behind these behavioral inconsistencies? Random utility theory (RUT) provides little guidance in this respect. While providing a mathematical basis for dealing with stochastic choice, RUT is agnostic about whether the noise is due to unobserved characteristics of the decision maker and/or the choice environment, or due to actual “mistakes.” The distinction is important because the former implies that from the point of view of the decision maker, her choices are perfectly consistent, while the latter implies that the decision maker herself may be surprised by her set of choices. Here we argue that non-choice (“process”) data strongly favors the latter explanation. Rather than thinking of choice as an instantaneous realization of stored preferences, we instead conceptualize choice as a dynamical process of information accumulation and comparison. Adapting “sequential sampling models” from cognitive psychology to economic choice, we illustrate the surprisingly complex relationship between choice and response-time data. Finally, we review recent data demonstrating how other process measures such as eye-tracking and neural recordings can be incorporated into this modeling approach, yielding further insights into the choice process.


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Published Online: 2015-11-19
Published in Print: 2015-1-1

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