When the best appears to be saved for last: Serial position effects on choice



Decision-makers often evaluate options sequentially due to constraints on attention, timing, or physical location of the options. Choosing the best option will therefore often depend on people's memories of the options. Because imperfect recall introduces uncertainty in earlier options, judgments of those options should regress toward the category mean as memory decays over time. Relatively desirable options will therefore tend to seem less desirable with time, and relatively undesirable options will tend to seem less undesirable with time. We therefore predicted that people will tend to select the first option in a set when choosing between generally undesirable options, and will tend to select the last when choosing between generally desirable options. We demonstrate these serial position effects in choices among paintings, American Idol audition clips, jellybeans, and female faces, provide evidence of its underlying mechanism, and explain how these findings build on existing accounts. Copyright © 2009 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.