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The effect of cognitive load on economic decision making: A survey and new experiments

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  • Deck, Cary
  • Jahedi, Salar

Abstract

Psychologists and economists have examined the effect of cognitive load in a variety of situations from risk taking to snack choice. We review previous experiments that have directly manipulated cognitive load and summarize their findings. We report the results of two new experiments where participants engage in a digit-memorization task while simultaneously performing a variety of economic tasks including: (1) choices involving risk, (2) choices involving intertemporal substitution, (3) choices with anchoring effects, (4) choices over healthy and unhealthy snacks, and (5) math problems. We find that higher cognitive load reduces numeracy as measured by performance in math problems. Moreover, within-subject analysis indicates that cognitive load leads to more risk-averse behavior, more impatience over money, and (nominally) more likelihood to anchor. We do not find any evidence that cognitive load increases impatience over consumption goods or unhealthy snack choices. Exploiting the panel nature of our data set, we find that those individuals who are most sensitive to cognitive load, as measured by a large drop in their own math performance across 1- and 8-digit memorization treatments, are driving much of the effect.

Suggested Citation

  • Deck, Cary & Jahedi, Salar, 2015. "The effect of cognitive load on economic decision making: A survey and new experiments," European Economic Review, Elsevier, vol. 78(C), pages 97-119.
  • Handle: RePEc:eee:eecrev:v:78:y:2015:i:c:p:97-119
    DOI: 10.1016/j.euroecorev.2015.05.004
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. Buckert, Magdalena & Oechssler, Jörg & Schwieren, Christiane, 2017. "Imitation under stress," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 139(C), pages 252-266.
    2. Giovanni Ferri & Matteo Ploner & Matteo Rizzolli, 2016. "Trading Fast and Slow: The Role Of Deliberation In Experimental Financial Markets," CERBE Working Papers wpC07, CERBE Center for Relationship Banking and Economics.
    3. Duffy, Sean & Naddeo, JJ & Owens, David & Smith, John, 2016. "Cognitive load and mixed strategies: On brains and minimax," MPRA Paper 89720, University Library of Munich, Germany.
    4. Filippin, Antonio & Gioia, Francesca, 2018. "Competition and subsequent risk-taking behaviour: Heterogeneity across gender and outcomes," Journal of Behavioral and Experimental Economics (formerly The Journal of Socio-Economics), Elsevier, vol. 75(C), pages 84-94.
    5. repec:wly:soecon:v:83:y:2017:i:4:p:886-902 is not listed on IDEAS
    6. Frank Schilbach & Heather Schofield & Sendhil Mullainathan, 2016. "The Psychological Lives of the Poor," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 106(5), pages 435-440, May.
    7. Katarzyna Gawryluk & Michal Krawczyk, 2017. "Probability weighting under time pressure: applying the double-response method," Working Papers 2017-08, Faculty of Economic Sciences, University of Warsaw.
    8. Carroll, Kathryn A. & Samek, Anya Savikhin & Zepeda, Lydia, 2016. "Product Bundling as a Behavioral Nudge: Investigating Consumer Fruit and Vegetable Selection using Dual-Self Theory," 2016 Annual Meeting, July 31-August 2, Boston, Massachusetts 236130, Agricultural and Applied Economics Association.
    9. LeBlanc, Justin D. & Civelli, Andrea & Deck, Cary & Bregu, Klajdi, 2016. "State dependent price setting rules under implicit thresholds: An experiment," Journal of Economic Dynamics and Control, Elsevier, vol. 68(C), pages 17-44.
    10. repec:eee:jeborg:v:137:y:2017:i:c:p:72-89 is not listed on IDEAS
    11. Drichoutis, Andreas C. & Nayga, Rodolfo, 2017. "Economic rationality under cognitive load," MPRA Paper 81111, University Library of Munich, Germany.
    12. repec:eee:eecrev:v:100:y:2017:i:c:p:463-487 is not listed on IDEAS
    13. Sheremeta, Roman, 2016. "Impulsive Behavior in Competition: Testing Theories of Overbidding in Rent-Seeking Contests," MPRA Paper 73731, University Library of Munich, Germany.
    14. Jahedi, Salar & Deck, Cary & Ariely, Dan, 2017. "Arousal and economic decision making," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 134(C), pages 165-189.
    15. Allred, Sarah & Duffy, Sean & Smith, John, 2016. "Cognitive load and strategic sophistication," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 125(C), pages 162-178.
    16. repec:eee:jhecon:v:58:y:2018:i:c:p:10-17 is not listed on IDEAS
    17. Gerhardt, Holger & Schildberg-Hörisch, Hannah & Willrodt, Jana, 2017. "Does self-control depletion affect risk attitudes?," European Economic Review, Elsevier, vol. 100(C), pages 463-487.
    18. Kuhn, Michael A. & Kuhn, Peter & Villeval, Marie Claire, 2017. "Decision-environment effects on intertemporal financial choices: How relevant are resource-depletion models?," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 137(C), pages 72-89.
    19. Klajdi Bregu & Cary Deck & Lindsay Ham & Salar Jahedi, 2017. "The Effects of Alcohol Use on Economic Decision Making," Southern Economic Journal, John Wiley & Sons, vol. 83(4), pages 886-902, April.
    20. Mark Schneider, 2016. "Dual Process Utility Theory: A Model of Decisions Under Risk and Over Time," Working Papers 16-23, Chapman University, Economic Science Institute.
    21. Segovia, Michelle S. & Palma, Marco A. & Nayga Jr., Rodolfo M., 2018. "Food Anticipation Enhances Cognitive Ability of Overweight and Obese in the Presence of Hunger," 2018 Annual Meeting, February 2-6, 2018, Jacksonville, Florida 266457, Southern Agricultural Economics Association.
    22. Hanna Fromell & Daniele Nosenzo & Trudy Owens, 2018. "Altruism, Fast and Slow? Evidence from a Meta-Analysis and a New Experiment," Discussion Papers 2018-13, The Centre for Decision Research and Experimental Economics, School of Economics, University of Nottingham.

    More about this item

    Keywords

    Cognitive load; Risk preferences; Impatience; Anchoring; Unhealthy food choice; Experiments;

    JEL classification:

    • D03 - Microeconomics - - General - - - Behavioral Microeconomics: Underlying Principles
    • C91 - Mathematical and Quantitative Methods - - Design of Experiments - - - Laboratory, Individual Behavior
    • D81 - Microeconomics - - Information, Knowledge, and Uncertainty - - - Criteria for Decision-Making under Risk and Uncertainty

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