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Explaining the Attraction Effect: An Ambiguity-Attention-Applicability Framework


The attraction effect refers to the observation that when a choice set contains two alternatives, the target and competitor, where each superior on a different attribute dimension, adding a third alternative that resembles the target but is inferior to it (i.e., a decoy) increases the choice share of the target. This effect is found reliably when the attribute values are represented numerically. In contrast, recent investigations have failed to produce the attraction effect when perceptual stimuli were used. Such conceptual replication failures indicate a lack of clarity about the necessary conditions for the attraction effect to be observed. The present research proposes that the attraction effect occurs when ambiguity in choice prompts individuals to focus attention on the comparison of the target and applicable decoy to resolve the ambiguity. Six experiments document when the attraction effect occurs for both numerical and perceptual stimuli. The findings support the view that ambiguity, attention, and applicability are necessary conditions for observing the attraction effect. We refer to this theorizing as the A3 framework.


Working Paper


Brian Sternthal

Date Published



Sternthal, Brian. 2018. Explaining the Attraction Effect: An Ambiguity-Attention-Applicability Framework.


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