• Gut thinking and eye tracking: Evidence for a central preference heuristic

      Thoma, Volker; Rodway, Paul; Tamlyn, Guy; University of East London; University of Chester (Taylor and Francis, 2021-09-01)
      People prefer the central item in an array of items. This could be due to applying a decision heuristic or greater visual attention to the central item. We manipulated task instructions as participants chose one from three consumer items. The instructions were to “think carefully” in one block and to “use gut feeling” in another. A centrality preference appeared only in the “gut” condition, which was also negatively correlated with self-reported reflective thinking disposition (Need-for-Cognition). Eye-movement patterns, however, were equivalent across both instruction conditions with more frequent and longer fixations on the middle items. The findings demonstrate an effect of instructions on the centrality preference for non-identical consumer items, and provide evidence for a heuristic cause of the centrality preference rather than the allocation of visual attention. The results also show that the centrality preference is more likely to be present when people choose quickly and intuitively.
    • Looking behaviour and preference for artworks: The role of emotional valence and location

      Kreplin, Ute; Thoma, Volker; Rodway, Paul; Liverpool John Moores University; University of East London; University of Chester; Oxford University (Elsevier, 2014-09-07)
      The position of an item influences its evaluation, with research consistently finding that items occupying central locations are preferred and have a higher subjective value. The current study investigated whether this centre-stage effect (CSE) is a result of bottom-up gaze allocation to the central item, and whether it is affected by item valence. Participants (n=50) were presented with three images of artistic paintings in a row and asked to choose the image they preferred. Eye movements were recorded for a subset of participants (n=22). On each trial the three artworks were either similar but different, or were identical and with positive valence, or were identical and with negative valence. The results showed a centre-stage effect, with artworks in the centre of the row preferred, but only when they were identical and of positive valence. Significantly greater gaze allocation to the central and left artwork was not mirrored by equivalent increases in preference choices. Regression analyses showed that when the artworks were positive and identical the participants’ last fixation predicted preference for the central art-work, whereas the fixation duration predicted preference if the images were different. Overall the result showed that item valence, rather than level of gaze allocation, influences the CSE, which is incompatible with the bottom-up gaze explanation. We propose that the centre stage heuristic, which specifies that the best items are in the middle, is able to explain these findings and the centre-stage effect.
    • Reachability does not explain the middle preference: a comment on Bar-Hillel (2015)

      Rodway, Paul; Schepman, Astrid; Thoma, Volker; University of Chester; University of Chester; University of East London (Sage, 2016-03-28)
      Choosing an object from an array of similar objects is a task that people complete frequently throughout their lives (e.g. choosing a can of soup from many cans of soup). Research has also demonstrated that items in the middle of an array or scene are looked at more often and are more likely to be chosen. This middle preference is surprisingly robust and widespread, having been found in a wide range of perceptual-motor tasks. In a recent review of the literature Bar-Hillel (2015) proposes, among other things, that the middle preference is largely explained by the middle item being easier to reach, either physically or mentally. We specifically evaluate Bar-Hillel’s reachability explanation for choice in non-interactive situations in light of evidence showing an effect of item valence on such choices. This leads us to conclude that the center-stage heuristic account is a more plausible explanation of the middle preference.