Doctoral thesis
Open access

The cognitive and behavioral effects of decision signposts

Number of pages268 p.
Imprimatur date2023-02-13
Defense date2023-02-13

Many of the most critical challenges our society faces today call for changes in people’s behavior. The rise of behavioral economics has brought attention to an intervention approach that recognizes and leverages previously disregarded contextual influences in human decision making. Known as choice architecture, this intervention approach aims to encourage personally and socially desirable behavior through targeted alterations in the physical, social, or psychological environment in which people interact and make decisions. In a comprehensive meta-analysis of the literature, the present dissertation shows that choice architecture interventions promote behavior change across a wide range of behavioral domains, populations, and locations, yet with substantial variations in effect sizes that highlight the need to better understand when and why choice architecture affects behavior. Aiming to address this gap, the dissertation focuses on a particular class of interventions, decision signposts, to investigate their cognitive and behavioral effects on decision making. Decision signposts are a primarily information-based form of choice architecture that guides behavior by activating relevant but potentially latent objectives and providing information that allows decision makers to assess the extent to which varying choice options align with those objectives. Taking an information processing approach, the dissertation investigates how decision signposts affect decision makers’ allocation of attention during pre-decisional information acquisition and integration processes and their ultimate choice. In addition, it explores both contextual and psychological moderators of the signpost effect. Across a series of choice experiments, the dissertation provides empirical evidence that (1) decision signposts direct decision makers’ attention toward choice options that are most congruent with the objectives activated by signposts and that (2) this attentional prioritization of choice options during information acquisition and integration predicts choice. The dissertation further shows that (3) the signpost effect increases as the evaluability of decision signposts improves and a wider range of implications are highlighted. Similarly, it finds that (4) the signpost effect increases as the objectives activated by decision signposts align more closely with decision makers’ personal values and concerns. In conclusion, the present dissertation illustrates how the integration of process-tracing techniques and systematic investigation of moderators improves our understanding of the mechanisms underlying choice architecture interventions and the conditions under which they facilitate behavior change — insights that help advance not only behavioral economic theory but also the application of choice architecture as a policy tool.

  • Decision making
  • Choice architecture
  • Meta-analysis
  • Process-tracing
  • Sustainability
Citation (ISO format)
MERTENS, Stéphanie. The cognitive and behavioral effects of decision signposts. 2023. doi: 10.13097/archive-ouverte/unige:167980
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