Consumer remorse: Difficult choices can lead to second-guessing

Apr 19, 2010

Consumers who choose between two good product options build a "positivity bubble" to justify their choices. But according to a new study in the Journal of Consumer Research, that bubble is easy to burst.

"From routine cereal-aisle shopping to expensive big-ticket purchases, consumers are often free to choose among many similarly attractive options," write authors Ab Litt and Zakary L. Tormala (Stanford University). "In these contexts, it can be difficult to resolve one's preferences to arrive at a purchasing decision."

When decisions are difficult because the choices are equally appealing, people often become more positive in their attitudes and behaviors toward their chosen option after they choose it. But the authors found that this enhancement of a product is surprisingly fragile, and collapses easily in the face of even minor negative information about it.

"We show that the process is more like inflating a 'positivity bubble,' where there's an appearance of strong positive attitudes, but which masks a heightened to ultimately collapsing," the authors write.

In three experiments, the researchers asked consumers to make easy or difficult decisions to select one of two products (digital cameras or car stereos). Easy decisions were between a liked and disliked option, based on participants' earlier ranking of products. Difficult decisions were between two options that were ranked and liked similarly in that earlier stage.

"Difficult decision scenarios with heightened stakes—such as shopping for expensive durable goods, choosing a gift for a loved one, or choosing a job, college, or house—are precisely those in which people would most hope to have accurate and stable attitudes," the authors write. "Perversely, our results suggest that in these cases their attitudes might actually be the most fragile and bubble-like, appearing strong but actually quite vulnerable to collapse."

"For , our results suggest that the to enhance and build up products chosen with difficulty (especially in important decisions) might boost happiness with them in the short term, but carry the risk of even greater dissatisfaction over time and experience." the authors conclude.

Explore further: Best of Last Week – Evidence of quark-gluon interactions, new portable device hack and why we may never live forever

More information: Ab Litt and Zakary L. Tormala. "Fragile Enhancement of Attitudes and Intentions Following Difficult Decisions." Journal of Consumer Research: December 2010.

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Categories help us make happier choices

Jul 17, 2008

Most of us have stood in a supermarket aisle, overwhelmed with the array of choices. Making those choices is easier if the options are categorized, according to new research in the Journal of Consumer Research.

Too many choices can spoil the research

Jun 26, 2008

The more choices people get, the less consistent they are in making those choices, according to a new study in the Journal of Consumer Research. The study's findings may affect the way researchers examine consumer choice ...

Recommended for you

Animals first flex their muscles

10 hours ago

An unusual new fossil discovery of one of the earliest animals on earth may also provide the oldest evidence of muscle tissue – the bundles of cells that make movement in animals possible.

Fact or fiction: Which do moviegoers prefer?

15 hours ago

Do you feel sadder watching a documentary about war or a drama about a young person dying of cancer? According to a new study in the Journal of Consumer Research, consumers mistakenly believe they will have stronger emotio ...

User comments : 0