Faculty Publications


Unpacking decision difficulty: Testing action dynamics in Intertemporal, gamble, and consumer choices

Document Type



Action dynamics, Conflict, Decision difficulty, Numeracy, Trajectory, Wavering

Journal/Book/Conference Title

Acta Psychologica



First Page


Last Page



The study examined the two-factor structure of decision difficulty proposed by Cheng and González-Vallejo (2017) in new domains, and the role of numeracy in relation to these factors. Using the measurement methodology of ‘mouse’ (cursor) movements, participants’ temporal and spatial measures were recorded when making decisions in the domains of intertemporal, gamble, and consumer choices. Task manipulations designed to affect difficulty included the sign of the payoffs (gains vs. losses), the similarity of the attribute values being compared, and attribute importance. A psychometric analysis of the measures revealed three orthogonal components, two of which, conflict and wavering, described decision difficulty. The conflict component was most affected by changes in the sign of the payoffs of intertemporal and gamble choices, with greater means observed in the loss than in the gain context. By contrast, the wavering component was most affected by changes of the similarity between the options’ attributes, with greater means when the options were more similar. The study also found that choosing the long-term advantageous options in an intertemporal choice task; choosing the riskier gain and safer loss in a gamble choice task; and choosing the more expensive/better-quality hotel in a consumer choice task demonstrated greater conflict and/or wavering. The study further found that numeracy, or the degree to which individuals are able to use and interpret numbers, was negatively related to the conflict component. Taken together, the study demonstrated that decision difficulty varied with contextual changes, and action-dynamic measures reflected different facets of decision difficulty.

Original Publication Date


DOI of published version



UNI ScholarWorks, Rod Library, University of Northern Iowa