Ongoing Research Projects

Memory Processes in Judgment and Decision Making

Research in decision-making frequently assumes that judgments and decision are based on the attributes of the decision options and the importance the decision maker assigns them. Accordingly, a decision between two candidates for a job should depend on the candidates’ qualifications and which qualifications the personnel manager deems important. However, during the decision process people frequently retrieve similar instances or decision situations that they have previously encountered from memory — so called exemplars. For instance, in the job decision example, one of the candidates could remind the personnel manager of a former employee. We‘re interested in understanding how these memories influence the decision process and thus might induce the personnel manager to hire or reject the candidate.
In four research projects we investigate the factors that determine whether a specific instance or exemplar is retrieved from memory and how the retrieval of exemplars influences the decision process.



1) The role of emotion in memory-based decisions


Emotions can affect decision making on several levels. In this research project we investigate whether the intensity of an emotional experience people made with a specific exemplar (e.g. a negative experience with a product they bought) influences whether this exemplar is retrieved in a similar decision situation and the degree to which it influences the decision process.

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2) Using process tracing to track information search in memory


Information search in memory is difficult to observe. In this project we apply and further develop new methods to trace information search in memory using eye tracking. Specifically, we use this methodology to trace the retrieval of exemplars during the decision process step by step and to investigate the factors that influence whether and when an exemplar is retrieved.

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3) Mathematical modeling of judgment processes


Existing models of human judgment often disregard reaction times. The goal of this project is to develop and test mathematical models of human judgment that make predictions not only regarding the absolute judgments but also regarding the time necessary to reach the judgment and the confidence in the judgment. Currently, we are developing an exemplar-based random walk model that describes judgments as an evidence accumulation process based on the retrieval of exemplars from memory.

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4) Decision making in consumer and health contexts


Basic research in cognitive psychology has outlined a number of factors that influence whether exemplar memory is used in a decision. The goal of this research project is to use these findings to understand decision making in applied contexts. For instance, we investigate how the presentation format of decision options (simultaneous or sequential) influences whether people consider anecdotal evidence such as consumer reports in realistic consumer decision contexts.

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Team members that currently work in this project: Bettina von Helversen, Agnes Rosner, René Schlegelmilch, Rebecca Albrecht


Sequential Decision Making


Many decisions require making a decision before all options could be considered. For instance, searching for a job or a partner usually requires considering one option after another. Furthermore, the decision to accept or reject has often to be made before the next option can be viewed and without knowing the quality of options that become available in the future. We aim to understand the decision strategies people employ to solve sequential decisions problems and how strategies and information search is influenced by affect and cognitive abilities.

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Team members that currently work in this project: Bettina von Helversen, Christiane Baumann


Diagnostic Reasoning


In diagnostic reasoning a decision maker has to find the best possible explanation for a set of observed symptoms. For instance, a physician has to choose the diagnosis that best explains a patient’s symptoms. In diagnostic reasoning, options are usually predefined and the information is presented sequentially. Recent research has shown that in such situations, diagnosticians try to come up with a coherent interpretation of the presented symptom information. In this project, we are interested in the cognitive processes underlying this reasoning process. Specifically, we aim to understand how people weight and integrate the presented information to a coherent representation and how these processes are shaped by memory

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Team members that currently work in this project: Agnes Rosner