Matthews, W. J., & Stewart, N. (2009). Psychophysics and the judgment of price: Judging complex objects on a non-physical dimension elicits sequential effects like those in perceptual tasks. Judgment and Decision Making, 4, 64-81.

When participants in psychophysical experiments are asked to estimate or identify stimuli which differ on a single physical dimension, their judgments are influenced by the local experimental context---the item presented and judgment made on the previous trial. It has been suggested that similar sequential effects occur in more naturalistic, real-world judgments. In three experiments we asked participants to judge the prices of a sequence of items. In Experiment 1, judgments were biased towards the previous response (assimilation) but away from the true value of the previous item (contrast), a pattern which matches that found in psychophysical research. In Experiments 2A and 2B, we manipulated the provision of feedback and the expertise of the participants, and found that feedback reduced the effect of the previous judgment and shifted the effect of the previous item's true price from contrast to assimilation. Finally, in all three experiments we found that judgments were biased towards the centre of the range, a phenomenon known as the "regression effect" in psychophysics. These results suggest that the most recently-presented item is a point of reference for the current judgment. The findings inform our understanding of the judgment process, constrain the explanations for local context effects put forward by psychophysicists, and carry practical importance for real-world situations in which contextual bias may degrade the accuracy of judgments.

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