Incidental values from environment affect decisions

Study Proposal #4: Incidental values from environment affect decisions (Ungemach) (C) | 09OCT13


Incidental values affect decision making about money, risk and delay, suggesting that there are perhaps no constant psycho-economic functions that inform our decision making. Instead, we are susceptible to rank subjective value based on a dynamic roster of attribute values from our memory.

I claim that this effect extends beyond monetary risk and delay decisions to decisions regarding healthy food choice, specifically fat. I am looking to verify the prediction in the paper that “all magnitudes will … be subject to contextual effects” and that this context effect works when risks are not as well defined, as is often the case in the world.

If choices about healthy food can be driven by unrelated aspects of environmental context, it would be valuable to understand how we can manipulate context to improve choices. Fundamental to my claim is the assumption that low-fat, and healthy is coded as a less risky choice and taste and high-fat is coded as a more risky choice. If one could minimize the potential for environmental context predictions to be outside the comparative range of risk choice , then perhaps one could minimize the probability that people will choose risky options.

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A 2×2 experimental matrix with testing on a random population sample will be sufficient. The experiment will follow the same structure as study #2 in the Ungemach et al. experiment on weather and risk.

In the experiment, participants will asked to write their predictions on the next day’s weather. After this, they will then be presented with a choice between carrots or cake. These will be presented on a table, and they will be allowed to take and eat their food. The carrots will be labeled as low fat, the cake will be labeled as high-fat. The experimenter will collect their prediction and record their choice.


participants choices & hypothesis Healthy, low-fat Carrots (low risk) Tasty, high-fat Cake (high risk)
Intermediate rain likelihood (A) High probability of choosing Carrots (B) Lower probability of choosing Cake than (D)
Small or large rain likelihood (C) Lower probability of choosing Carrots than (A) (D) High probability of choosing Cake


    If incidental values from the environment do affect decision making about quantities in general, then this study will find that prior predictions about the unrelated context of weather will lead to an effect on food consumption choice.


This study would suggest that context effects for decision making are indeed generalizable and can affect decisions for healthy eating, specifically. We could focus efforts to encourage healthy eating for people who are prone to or are often in situations of making predictive extremes. In addition, this could imply that it is most important for marketers of healthy products to communicate differentiation between their products and unhealthy choices in the most broad and extreme possible way, as this would include more consumers in the intermediate range regardless of context. The same marketing technique could be applied inversely to fast food marketers, minimizing perceived distinction between healthy and unhealthy choices.

question, agree or disagree

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