COLUMBUS — When faced with a choice, new research suggests what we look at can help guide our decisions.

Researchers at Ohio State University found it's not just that someone chooses what they look at the most. Our gaze amps up our desire for what we already like, said Ian Krajbich, a co-author of the study and an assistant professor of psychology and economics at Ohio State.

Krajbich, who has been studying how people make simple decisions for more than a decade, wanted to learn more about the link between what we look at and what we choose.

From which products we buy to whom we give our money to, what gets our attention influences our decision-making, he said.

Other research has suggested that when faced with two options, we like something more the longer we look at it. But that's not necessarily the case, Krajbich said.

Rather, his research suggests that the attention we give an item increases the good signals we're already getting from that option.

In the lab, Krajbich and co-author Stephanie Smith, a graduate student in psychology at Ohio State, asked participants to rate how much they would like to eat more than 100 different snack foods. Participants were then presented pairs of snacks, such as Doritos and Snickers bars, on a computer and asked which one they wanted at that moment.

With the help of an eye tracker, researchers monitored participants' eye movements and measured what they looked at before making their choice. At the end of the study, participants received one of the snacks they chose.

How long someone looked at an item was not correlated with how they rated it, Krajbich said. It was how long someone paid attention to an item, however, that predicted what they chose beyond their initial ratings, he said.

For example, if someone rated a bag of pretzels a 7 and a cookie an 8, one might assume they would choose the cookie. But not always. If they looked a little longer at the pretzels, they were more likely to pick that snack.

Most decisions in the study took only 2 to 3 seconds. Even the smallest amount of extra attention given could drastically affect results.

"If you feel neutral about two items, but you look at the one on the left a half-second longer than the item on the right, you are 30 percent more likely to choose that item," Krajbich said.

Eye-tracking also helped researchers understand when participants made seemingly random choices, contrary to their ratings.

"We'd like to always predict what people choose," Krajbich said. "Traditionally, we wouldn't be able to predict that without eye-tracking."

The study has obvious implications for advertisers, Krajbich said.

It's estimated that Americans are exposed to about 4,000 to 10,000 ads a day, according to a 2015 study by Red Crow Marketing Inc. in Springfield, Missouri.

With so many products fighting for consumers' attention, it's not just that you want your product noticed — you want to hold people's attention for a longer time, Krajbich said.

Similar research has studied the effect that attention plays in making social decisions, like how we share money with others.

"It's about how we choose in general," Krajbich said. "We need to make sure that people pay attention."