Empirical comparison of the adjustable spanner and the adaptive toolbox models of choice

Antonia Krefeld-Schwalb, Chris Donkin, Ben R Newell, Benjamin Scheibehenne

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

6 Citations (Scopus)


Past research indicates that individuals respond adaptively to contextual factors in multiattribute choice tasks. Yet it remains unclear how this adaptation is cognitively governed. In this article, empirically testable implementations of two prominent competing theoretical frameworks are developed and compared across two multiattribute choice experiments: the adaptive toolbox framework assuming discrete choice strategies and the adjustable spanner framework assuming one comprehensive adaptive strategy. Results from two experiments indicate that in the environments we tested, in which all cue information was presented openly, the toolbox makes better predictions than the adjustable spanner both in- and out-of-sample. Follow-up simulation studies indicate that it is difficult to discriminate the models based on choice outcomes alone but allowed the identification of a small subset of cases where the predictions of both models diverged. Our results suggest that people adapt their decision strategies by flexibly switching between using as little information as possible and use of all of the available information. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2019 APA, all rights reserved).

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1151-1165
Number of pages15
JournalJournal of Experimental Psychology: Learning Memory and Cognition
Issue number7
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2019
Externally publishedYes


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