When the Good Looks Bad: An Experimental Exploration of the Repulsion Effect

Mikhail S. Spektor, David Kellen, Jared M. Hotaling

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


When people are choosing among different options, context seems to play a vital role. For instance, adding a third option can increase the probability of choosing a similar dominating option. This attraction effect is one of the most widely studied phenomena in decision-making research. Its prevalence, however, has been challenged recently by the tainting hypothesis, according to which the inferior option contaminates the attribute space in which it is located, leading to a repulsion effect. In an attempt to test the tainting hypothesis and explore the conditions under which dominated options make dominating options look bad, we conducted four preregistered perceptual decision-making studies with a total of 301 participants. We identified two factors influencing individuals’ behavior: stimulus display and stimulus design. Our results contribute to a growing body of literature showing how presentation format influences behavior in preferential and perceptual decision-making tasks.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1309-1320
Number of pages12
JournalPsychological Science
Issue number8
StatePublished - Aug 1 2018
Externally publishedYes


  • attraction effect
  • context effects
  • decision making
  • open data
  • open materials
  • preregistered
  • repulsion effect

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Psychology


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