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Predictable Effects of Visual Salience in Experimental Decisions and Games

Li, Xiaomin and Camerer, Colin F. (2022) Predictable Effects of Visual Salience in Experimental Decisions and Games. Quarterly Journal of Economics, 137 (3). pp. 1849-1900. ISSN 0033-5533. doi:10.1093/qje/qjac025.

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Bottom-up stimulus-driven visual salience is largely automatic, effortless, and independent of a person’s “top-down” perceptual goals; it depends only on features of a visual stimulus. Algorithms have been carefully trained to predict stimulus-driven salience values for each pixel in any image. The economic question we address is whether these salience values help explain economic decisions. Our first experimental analysis shows that when people pick between sets of fruits that have artificially induced value, predicted salience (which is uncorrelated with value by design) leads to mistakes. Our second analysis uses evidence from games in which choices are locations in images. When players are trying to cooperatively match locations, predicted salience is highly correlated with the success of matching (r = .57). In competitive hider-seeker location games, players choose salient locations more often than predicted by the unique Nash equilibrium. This tendency creates a disequilibrium “seeker’s advantage” (seekers win more often than predicted in equilibrium). The result can be explained by level-k models in which predicted stimulus-driven salience influences level-0 choices and thereby influences overall perceptions, beliefs, and choices of higher-level players. The third analysis shows that there is an effect of visual salience in matrix games, but it is small and statistically weak. Applications to behavioral IO, price and tax salience, nudges and design, and visually influenced beliefs are suggested.

Item Type:Article
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URLURL TypeDescription and code
Li, Xiaomin0000-0002-1286-4012
Camerer, Colin F.0000-0003-4049-1871
Additional Information:© The Author(s) 2022. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the President and Fellows of Harvard College. This article is published and distributed under the terms of the Oxford University Press, Standard Journals Publication Model ( Accepted: 30 May 2022. Published: 11 June 2022. Corrected and typeset: 12 July 2022. Support was provided by the Behavioral and Neuroeconomics Discovery Fund (PI Camerer), Tianqiao and Chrissy Chen Center for Social and Decision Neuroscience, Alfred P. Sloan Foundation (G201811259), and NIMH Conte Center P50MH094258. Thanks to audiences at the Caltech Graduate Proseminar, Sloan/NOMIS Conference on Decision and Cognition, IAREP/SABE (Middlesex), Columbia University, Peking University, UC-Berkeley Behavioral Economics, Virtual Process Tracing Conference, Bocconi IGIER, and the Pitt Behavioral and Experimental Economics seminar. We especially thank Elke Weber, Vince Crawford, Jacqueline Gottlieb, Richard Thaler (for the Schelling list idea), Adam Sanjurjo (for “The Pearl” tip), the editor and several anonymous referees for helpful comments, Luca Polonio and Giorgio Coricelli for sharing the valuable gaze data in games, Anne Karing for a valuable image, Gidi Nave, Xintong Han, and Nina Solovnyeva (SURF 2020). Extra special thanks go to Eskil Forsell, Milica Mormann, and Alec Smith whose energetic prior research on this topic laid the foundation for this article, although their own work was never published. Data Availability. Data and code replicating tables and figures in this article can be found in Li and Camerer (2022) in the Harvard Dataverse,
Group:Tianqiao and Chrissy Chen Institute for Neuroscience
Funding AgencyGrant Number
Caltech Behavioral and Neuroeconomics Discovery FundUNSPECIFIED
Tianqiao and Chrissy Chen Institute for NeuroscienceUNSPECIFIED
Alfred P. Sloan FoundationG201811259
Issue or Number:3
Classification Code:JEL C72 - Noncooperative Games; C91 - Laboratory, Individual Behavior; D91 - Role and Effects of Psychological, Emotional, Social, and Cognitive Factors on Decision Making
Record Number:CaltechAUTHORS:20220729-894483000
Persistent URL:
Official Citation:Xiaomin Li, Colin F Camerer, Predictable Effects of Visual Salience in Experimental Decisions and Games, The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Volume 137, Issue 3, August 2022, Pages 1849–1900,
Usage Policy:No commercial reproduction, distribution, display or performance rights in this work are provided.
ID Code:115983
Deposited By: George Porter
Deposited On:01 Aug 2022 19:38
Last Modified:01 Aug 2022 19:38

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