Rethinking the focusing effect in decision-making

Paolo Cherubini, Ketti Mazzocco, Rino Rumiati

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


According to Legrenzi et al. [Cognition 49 (1993) 37], in making a choice people consider only the alternatives explicitly represented in their mental model of the decision situation. Their idea has found empirical support in the "focusing effect": Individuals focus on the alternatives explicitly stated in the problem context, and do not take into account other possibilities. In their original study, Legrenzi and colleagues considered only one factor to account for the explicit representation of an alternative - i.e., its explicit verbal formulation in the decision problem. Recent theories of relevance and information gain can help articulate their original idea, suggesting that individuals explicitly represent relevant alternatives, whether or not they are explicitly formulated in the decision problem. In three experiments we first replicated Legrenzi et al.'s original experiment, and then showed that the explicit verbal mention of an alternative is neither sufficient nor necessary to focus on it. The results suggest that individuals are able to consider relevant alternatives, even when they are not made explicit in the verbal formulation of a decision problem.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)67-81
Number of pages15
JournalActa Psychologica
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - May 2003


  • Attention
  • Decision-making
  • Mental models
  • Relevance

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cognitive Neuroscience
  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology


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