Exploration and exploitation during information search and experimential choice

  • Cleotilde Gonzalez (Author)
    Carnegie Mellon University
  • Varun Dutt (Author)
    Indian Institute of Technology, Mandi

Identifiers (Article)


Before making a choice we often search and explore the options available. For example, we try clothes on before selecting the one to buy and we search for career options before deciding a career to pursue. Although the exploration process, where one is free to sample available options is pervasive, we know little about how and why humans explore an environment before making choices. This research contributes to the clarification of some of the phenomena that describe how people perform search during free sampling: we find a gradual decrease of exploration and, in parallel, a tendency to explore and choose options of high value. These patterns provide support to the existence of learning and an exploration-exploitation tradeoffs that may occur during free sampling. Thus, exploration in free sampling is not led by the purely epistemic value of the available options. Rather, exploration during free sampling is a learning process that is influenced by memory effects and by the value of the options available, where participants pursue options of high value more frequently. These parallel processes predict the consequential choice.


Contributor or sponsoring agency
National Science Foundation awards (SED-1154012 and SES-1530479)
Type, method or approach
original empirical work
choice, decisions from experience, exploration, maximization, instance-based learning theory