The attraction effect shows that adding a third alternative to a choice set can alter preference between the original two options. For over 30 years, this simple demonstration of context dependence has been taken as strong evidence against a class of parsimonious value-maximising models that evaluate alternatives independently from one another. Significantly, however, in previous demonstrations of the attraction effect alternatives are approximately equally valuable, so there was little consequence to the decision maker irrespective of which alternative was selected. Here we vary the difference in expected value between alternatives and provide the first demonstration that, although extinguished with large differences, this theoretically important effect persists when choice between alternatives has a consequence. We use this result to clarify the implications of the attraction effect, arguing that although it robustly violates the assumptions of value-maximising models, it does not eliminate the possibility that human decision making is optimal. © 2016 The Authors Journal of Behavioral Decision Making Published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd.
- attraction effect
- contextual preference reversals
- expected value