The ‘mouse model’ helps us understand how we make decisions

A tool usually available at the tip of our fingers can reveal how you make decisions.


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Using a computer mouse model, scientists from Yale University have deciphered how we make decisions.

When presenting choices on a computer screen, how subjects move their mouse when making their choice can show how conflicted people are about making a decision. It also predicts both their underlying preferences and future decisions.

Senior author Melissa Ferguson, professor of psychology at Yale, reported, “In theory, information contained in mouse movements can not only predict what people will buy, but potentially answer other societal questions, like whether will they wear a mask in public during the pandemic or who will they vote for.”

For the study, scientists recorded mouse movements made by about 650 subjects. Direct movement of their mouse before clicking on their choice offered a measure of their degree of conflict. For instance, even when a person eventually decides on a risky choice, if their mouse movements drift toward the safe option along the way, it predicts the subject might be averse to risk.

For sure, these subjects who indicated that sort of drifting movement chose safe choices in ensuing tests. Alternately, those whose mouse developments made a direct movement to the less secure bet were bound to take more risks in future tests.

Ferguson said, “If asked in a survey, people may say that during Thanksgiving, they would limit family gatherings to a few people due to the pandemic. However, if you present them different options on a computer screen about the size of family gatherings during the holiday and follow the mouse, you may see that they really have different plans.”

“By measuring computer mouse movements while people decide, we can better understand whether they will follow through or do something completely different.”

The results were published Nov. 23 in the journal of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.


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