Dissociating decision strategies in free-choice tasks - A mouse tracking analysis

Research output: Contribution to journalResearch articleContributedpeer-review



Everyday life offers a variety of possible actions, from which we choose one that corresponds to our intended goals. How do these goals and actions interact within the mind? One way to investigate this question is free-choice tasks, where participants freely choose the action they want to perform on any given trial. Such tasks are used in research on voluntary actions and goal-driven behavior, such as ideomotor theory. However, these tasks leave participants with a substantial amount of freedom and allow for different response strategies. Such strategies can, though being hidden in the final data, influence the results, for example by hiding the effects of manipulations of interest. To better understand participants' behavior in free-choice tasks, we used mouse tracking in an ideomotor free-choice experiment, where participants learn the connection between an action and an effect. Subsequently, they have to freely choose between actions, while the former effect is presented as a stimulus. We identified two distinct groups that applied different decision strategies. The first group made the decision at the beginning of or before the trial, irrespective of the yet to be presented effect stimulus. The second group decided within the trial and was affected by the stimulus more often. This suggests that people handle free-choice tasks differently which is expressed in heterogeneous choice patterns and response times and an underestimation of the examined effects. These differences potentially limit the reliability of inferences from free-choice experiments and should be considered in the interpretation of their results.


Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)65-71
Number of pages7
JournalActa psychologica
Publication statusPublished - 14 Jul 2018

External IDs

Scopus 85049743858
ORCID /0000-0002-4408-6016/work/142234391


ASJC Scopus subject areas


  • Choice Behavior/physiology, Decision Making, Female, Humans, Learning/physiology, Male, Neuropsychological Tests, Psychomotor Performance/physiology, Reaction Time/physiology, Reproducibility of Results, User-Computer Interface, Young Adult

Library keywords