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6.4. Conclusions and Discussion

In this chapter, we reviewed and illustrated a new approach to address the issue of personal variability and situational dependence of travellers preferences based on the notion of mental representations. When individuals need to explore and oversee their choice alternatives and the likely consequences of their behaviour, they conceptualise the causal interdependencies between the choice alternatives, the decision context, their inner needs and the task by means of simplified images of reality. These so-called mental representations are the core subject of this approach as they represent the individual and situation specific information being necessary to explain a potentially important source of heterogeneity in activity-travel preferences.

Different ways of measuring mental representations have been briefly discussed focusing on techniques that work on a verbal level. According to the memory retrieval process stressed, one can group them into recall- and recognition-based techniques, respectively. For both categories a number of more or less sophisticated techniques exists among which laddering, face-to-face CNET and APT are the most prominent ones. Although all of them were applied successfully in small surveys for measuring mental representations, each of the techniques had specific drawbacks which prevented a large-based application on the investigation of individual variability in decision-making. While the structured recognition-based techniques are held insensitive for measuring individual and contextual shifts, the unstructured recall-based techniques were too time-consuming and their collected data difficult to analyse. A recently developed automated online version of this method largely overcomes this problem. The method was illustrated in an application to investigate the impact of online shopping alternatives on mental representation in shopping activity choice making. The results showed that the presence of an online shopping alternative has an impact on the complexity of the mental representations but, contrary to what could be expected, hardly any impact on the contents of the cognitive constructs.

There is no doubt that the exploration of MRs is only about to start. The enormous amount of choice situations from all societal domains would provide many interesting approaches for deeper investigation of MRs. Inter-individual differences in benefit activation and its effect on decision-making might be a very interesting topic to study. Thus, do individuals from different age groups, education levels, cultures, man and woman, etc. differ in the way they image a decision problem? Besides these rather snapshot-like recordings of individuals' MRs also the investigation of more dynamic effects due to learning and updating, effects of priming, habitualisation effects, etc. seems to be worth to be put high on the research agenda. Cross-technical comparisons might furthermore be of interest in order to solve the question which technique delivers the more genuine image respondents bear in mind.

From a formal point of view, results of suchlike investigations could thus help to incorporate more heterogeneity in (transport) choice models. Another future project is the extension of discrete choice models to account for need activation and cognitive selectivity in choice processes. As such, Arentze et al. (2014) showed how both cognitive selectivity and choice of an alternative can be modelled in an integrated RUM framework and how the integrated model can be parameterized and estimated by loglikelihood methods based on observations of both MRs and choice outcomes. In this regard it is only a logical consequence to shed also light on the relevance of MRs for the prediction of choice behaviour. From a practical point of view, progress in measuring mental representations could also simply improve our knowledge about how individuals face a certain decision problem. These insights could be very worthwhile for policymakers, transport planners and marketing experts in order to tailor travel demand measures, transport options and consumer products according to the needs of (groups of) individuals.

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