Quality & Quantity 35: 311–323, 2001.
© 2001 Kluwer Academic Publishers. Printed in the Netherlands.
Context Variables as Cognitive Effort Modulators in
Decision Making Using an Alternative-Based
Department of Psychology, University of Jaén, Spain;
Department of Social Psychology and
Methodology of Behavioral Sciences, University of Granada, Spain
Abstract. This paper examines how a number of decision context variables affect the cognitive
effort required for decision making on dichotomical choice tasks. Subjects are trained in the use of a
strategy in which information processing is alternative-based. The correlation between the attributes
of the alternatives and the mean and variance of the difference between the attributes is manipulated.
The results show that the effort needed for decision making increases as the mean of the differences
decreases. Yet, neither the variance of the differences nor the correlation context affect the decision
making effort in this type of strategies.
Key words: cognitive effort, decision making, decision strategies
Processing costs in decision making are a well-known object of study. Bettman
and Kakkar (1977) or Einhorn (1970), among others, proposed in the seventies
some of the cognitive strategies that decision makers might use to simplify complex
decision making tasks.
In the early eighties, Huber (1980) and Shugan (1980) proposed independent
but complementary approaches to the study of cognitive effort. Shugan’s model
(1980) arises as an attempt at integrating the various measures available concern-
ing cognitive effort. This model, in theory only valid for decisions involving two
alternatives, suggests that the effort involved in decision making is a function of
the number of comparisons to be made and of the difﬁculty of the decision task.
The latter, in turn, is a function of three parameters: the mean of the differences
between the attributes of the alternatives, the variance of the differences between
the attributes of the alternatives, and the decision maker’s conﬁdence level. The
mean of the differences is inversely related to the effort involved in the decision
process. The conﬁdence level and the variance of the differences are directly related
to the decision effort.
In Huber’s (1980, 1989) approach, decision making is viewed as a problem
solving process. Accordingly, Huber (1980) proposed an information processing