Explaining Choice Behavior: The Intentional Selection Assumption


How do people decide between several options presented to them? Normative accounts suggest the utilities of options are fixed, but subjective accounts suggest utilities depend on context. In the current paper, we propose a novel model of choice that may help reconcile these accounts. We propose that choice behavior may depend on an "Intentional Selection Assumption": when people are presented with multiple options, they assume the options were intentionally selected by a person with specific questions in mind. Inferences about the intentional selection of options inform the chooser about the features that are intended to be most relevant. In this way, context can affect the desirability of a particular option, without requiring shifting utilities over features. Two behavioral experiments support the claim that participants are sensitive to intentional selection. We discuss the importance of taking choosers' assumptions about intentional selection into account in future investigations of choice behavior.

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