Sebastian’s core research interest is in the area of consumer’ perceptual decision making. In order to interact with our environment effectively, it is crucially important that our brain efficiently processes the information in our surroundings and identifies objects of interest rapidly and accurately. For instance, imagine the situation of shopping in a modern supermarket. Most shops sell sometimes more than 50.000 items, representing numerous product categories and brands. Commonly, consumers are under time pressure and their budget is limited. In order to make successful decisions the consumer has to engage in a dynamic search over the set of available products under conditions of time pressure and choice overload. This scenario poses several intriguing questions: What are the neural mechanisms that underlie the visual search and decision processes? How do these mechanisms change with varying degrees of complexity and consumer motivation? Do these underlying processes manifest systematic biases that can be utilized by sellers to influence consumer choices?
Sebastian’s project aims at answering these questions by means of investigating the underlying psychological and neural processes related to visual search and decision making. In order to do so, he will apply a newly developed behavioral paradigm, targeted at creating situations in which participants have to engage in visual search, in combination with brain imaging. Based on recent advances in neuroimaging methods, multi voxel pattern analysis (MVPA) will be applied to identify neural processes involved in perceptual decision making. MVPA has been one of the major advances in cognitive neuroscience methodology in the past decade. It assesses activation beyond single voxels and is targeted at locating activation patterns in a subset of voxels. It is a predictive method that can be used to decode and classify the content of cognitive processes from neural activation patterns (Norman et al., 2006). Stated differently, MVPA can determine whether patterns of brain activity are predictive of decisions and preferences (Tusche et al., 2010). Sebastian will apply MVPA in order to decode the neural activity underlying perceptual decision making.
In summary, this project will inform us about the neural activity related to visual search and the influence of motivation on accuracy and reaction time of visual searches. The findings will be useful in providing insights into efficient product and shelf design to ensure heightened attention to these marketing stimuli.