Non-Consequential Reasoning in Hedonic and Utilitarian Consumption Decisions

Laura Smarandescu, Non-consequential Reasoning in Hedonic and Utilitarian Consumption Decisions

Non-consequential Reasoning in Hedonic and Utilitarian Consumption Decisions

 

Abstract

 

This work investigates the effects of pursuing non-instrumental information on non-consequential reasoning in the context of hedonic vs. utilitarian purchase context. No difference has been found between individuals’ willingness to pursue non-instrumental information in the two purchase contexts, but individuals were more likely to rely on non-instrumental information for a hedonic rather than for a utilitarian purchase decision. This research suggests that individuals feel more accountable for hedonic purchases and thus, are more likely to weight non-instrumental information in their purchase decision in order to avoid feelings of guilt.

 

Rationality and the “sure thing principle”

 

Under uncertainty, individuals tend to make decisions in a consequential manner by assessing the perceived likelihood of each alternative outcome, and its potential implications for the individuals’ desires and actions (Shafir and Tversky 1992).  Although choices based on a consequential evaluation of anticipated outcomes are expected to satisfy Savage’s “sure thing principle", which states that if we prefer A to B given any possible state of the world then we should prefer A to B even when the exact state of the world is unknown, people do not always make choices in a consequential manner and the “sure thing principle” is sometimes violated. Bastardi and Shafir (1998) showed that people who expressed an intention to take an action unconditioned by whether an event occurred or not, chose to postpone their action when the outcome was unknown. They attributed this effect to the ill-defined preferences held by individuals when arriving at choice. Hence, individuals who are unsure about their preferences are motivated to look for additional information to simplify their choice task, and pursue non-instrumental information because it seems relevant to their decision. However, once they pursue the non-instrumental information, they treat it as instrumental and weight it into their decision.

This work extends the research of Bastardi and Shafir (1998) testing the effects of pursuing non-instrumental information on non-consequential reasoning in the context of hedonic vs. utilitarian product purchases.

 

Choosing between Utilitarian and Hedonic Consumption

 

When consumers make trade-offs between necessities and indulgences, the latter are at an inherent disadvantage because necessities are at a higher status in the hierarchy of needs (Maslow 1970; Weber 1998). The lower status of hedonic with respect to utilitarian consumption has been long documented by philosophers, sociologists and political scientists (Berry 1994, Weber 1998). Berry proposes that individuals adhere to a principle of precedence inspired by Protestantism, which indicates that needs have to be met before desires. Shafir, Simonson and Tversky (1993) suggest that when the choice between a hedonic vs. utilitarian consumption is based on reason, hedonic consumption is at a disadvantage relative to utilitarian consumption, since the latter provides a better justification, as being essential for the individuals’ well being.

A consequence of Weber’s normative view of consumption is that individuals associate paying for hedonic products with greater anticipated guilt, which has the potential of spoiling the consumption experience (Prelec and Lowenstein, 1998; Kivetz and Simonson, 2002). Kivetz and Simonson (2002) indicate that the consumption of hedonic experiences such as vacations and gourmet restaurant dinners may evoke guilt even when they are offered at no cost, individuals feeling that they take away from work or that they deviate from a healthy diet.

 

Nonconsequential Reasoning in Hedonic and Utilitarian Consumption Decisions

Consistent with Shafir, Simonson and Tversky (1993), this work predicted that individuals have less available justifications for a hedonic than for a utilitarian product purchase, and that they would be more inclined to pursue non-instrumental information in order to better motivate a hedonic purchase. It was further proposed that in the event that individuals choose to pursue non-instrumental information, they are likely account for this information and weight it into their purchase decisions. This study revealed no differences in individuals’ willingness to pursue non-instrumental information in the two purchase contexts. However, individuals were more likely to rely on non-instrumental information when they contemplated a hedonic purchase rather than when a utilitarian purchase was considered.
[ to cite ]:
Laura Smarandescu (2006) ,"Non-Consequential Reasoning in Hedonic and Utilitarian Consumption Decisions", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 33, eds. Connie Pechmann and Linda Price, Duluth, MN : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 328-328.