From home purchases to jury decisions to medical diagnoses, context influences how we make decisions. Consider these factors described by Vanderbilt University cognitive scientist Jennifer Trueblood, whose research focuses on contextual factors in judgment and decision-making.
The order effect: The sequence in which information is presented can change how people make their decisions. One example is “primacy” — what people learn earlier influences how they weigh information they learn later. It’s harder for later information to alter judgments made based on information presented earlier.
The decoy effect: When choosing between options and weighing various factors a “decoy” can influence which option you choose.
Imagine that I’m deciding between two homes, one that is in a prime location and expensive (let’s call this house A) and another that is in a less desirable location and affordable (let’s call this house B). In this situation, I’m faced with making a trade-off between price and location.
Now, suppose a new option shows up on the market: house C, which is in a very similar location to house B, but slightly more expensive. In this case, house C is clearly worse than house B – costs more for an unfavorable location – so I would never choose it.
Even though I would never buy house C, research shows it influences my choice between the original two. The presence of the inferior house C increases the likelihood that I will buy house B.