Value-based attention but not divisive normalization influences decisions with multiple alternatives


Violations of economic rationality principles in choices between three or more options are critical for understanding the neural and cognitive mechanisms of decision-making. A recent study reported that the relative choice accuracy between two options decreases as the value of a third (distractor) option increases and attributed this effect to divisive normalization of neural value representations. In two preregistered experiments, a direct replication and an eye-tracking experiment, we assessed the replicability of this effect and tested an alternative account that assumes value-based attention to mediate the distractor effect. Surprisingly, we could not replicate the distractor effect in our experiments. However, we found a dynamic influence of distractor value on fixations to distractors as predicted by the value-based attention theory. Computationally, we show that extending an established sequential sampling decision-making model by a value-based attention mechanism offers a comprehensive account of the interplay between value, attention, response times and decisions.

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Fig. 1: Valuation and choice task in the two experiments.
Fig. 2: Analyses of distractor effects on relative choice accuracy.
Fig. 3: Analyses of distractor effects on RT.
Fig. 4: Evidence for value-based attention.
Fig. 5: Illustration and predictions of the aDDM with value-based attention.

Data availability

Data of all participants included in the final samples of the two experiments are publicly available on OSF (

Code availability

Custom code that supports the findings of this study is publicly available on OSF (


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We thank K. Louie for providing us with materials from the original study and for approving the preregistration protocol of the direct replication experiment. Further thanks go to I. Krajbich and A. Rangel for sharing their data and to I. Krajbich and J. Rieskamp for comments on an earlier version of the manuscript. S.G. was supported by a grant from the Swiss National Science Foundation (no. 100014_172761). The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish or preparation of the manuscript.

Author information

All authors designed the study. N.K., M.K. and C.L.V. collected the data. All authors analysed the data. S.G. wrote the manuscript. N.K., M.K. and C.L.V. revised the manuscript.

Correspondence to Sebastian Gluth.

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Supplementary Results, Supplementary Figs. 1–11, Supplementary Tables 1–4 and Supplementary References.

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Gluth, S., Kern, N., Kortmann, M. et al. Value-based attention but not divisive normalization influences decisions with multiple alternatives. Nat Hum Behav (2020).

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