Uncovering the Anatomy of Search Without Technology


This chapter is a somewhat odd addition in a Handbook of Process-Tracing Methods. We will not revel at the ever growing and ever more sophisticated methods to trace processes nor will we conceive of still another technology. Nevertheless, our concern will be with “information search prior to choice”—the object of desire of what Schulte-Mecklenbeck et al. (2017) called “movement-based (process tracing) such as computer-based information boards, eye tracking, joystick and slider bar, mouse tracking or the tracking of reaching pointing” (p. 443). Our starting point is this observation: Process-tracing methods often focus on cognitive tasks that in themselves are devoid of an explicit and extended episode of search, thus requiring sophisticated technologies and efforts to look through this dimly lit and small window of search. This chapter will be concerned with a very different way, requiring much less engineering, of laying bare the anatomy of the search process, and in fact, giving search a leading role in behavioral experiments and theories of choice. The cognitive task that we focus on is risky choice, still one of the most important domains for studying the way humans make decisions. Since the early 2000s research on risky choice has (again) begun to study experiential-based paradigms (for a review see, Wulff, Mergenthaler Canseco, & Hertwig, 2018)—often in parallel with description-based paradigms. In the experiential paradigms, the search process and its major defining properties—that is, for instance, amount of search and the search policy—unfolds for everyone to see. Experiential paradigms in risky choice and many other lines of research, according to our key argument, represent an alternative to the use of sophisticated process-tracing technologies and auxiliary assumptions necessary to lift the veil and to understand the processes preceding choice.

In A handbook of process tracing methods