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Content effects on decision making

By David A. Rettinger and Reid Hastie


How does the domain or subject matter of a decision problem affect the outcome of the decision? Although decision-making research typically dismisses content as merely a cover story, the present research shows that it plays a fundamental role in the decision process by influencing the information processing that underlies it. An experiment is reported in which the same basic decision problem was presented in several content domains (legal traffic tickets, academic course grades, stock investments, and casino gambling). The changes in content led to changes in both strategies and mental representations, which in turn led to changes in decision outcomes, even though measures of the subjective utilities of the options remained unchanged. � 2001 Academic Press Life is a gamble. At least that is the expressed wisdom of many philosophers and behavioral scientists. This precept has led to a large literature of decisionmaking studies in which people are asked to make ratings and choices of monetary gambles like those they would encounter in casinos. Lopes (1983) described the simple monetary gamble as playing the same role in decision research that the fruit fly occupies in genetics. The prevailing view in the These data were presented at the 1998 Annual Meetings of the Psychonomic Society and Society for Judgment and Decision Making. This study was supported by NSF Grant SBR 9816458, NIMH Grant R01 MH58362, and the Psychology Department at the University of Colorado at Boulder. It is based on the doctoral dissertation of the first author. The authors thank Walter Kintsch for advice on this project as well as two anonymous reviewers who made substantial suggestions for revisions. Address correspondence and reprint requests to David A. Rettinger, Psychology Department

Year: 2001
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