Special Session Summary Something's Missing: Modern Cognitive Approaches to Decision Making With Incomplete Information

Julie R. Irwin, New York University
Robert Meyer, University of Pennsylvania
[ to cite ]:
Julie R. Irwin and Robert Meyer (1996) ,"Special Session Summary Something's Missing: Modern Cognitive Approaches to Decision Making With Incomplete Information", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 23, eds. Kim P. Corfman and John G. Lynch Jr., Provo, UT : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 308.

Advances in Consumer Research Volume 23, 1996      Page 308

SPECIAL SESSION SUMMARY

SOMETHING'S MISSING: MODERN COGNITIVE APPROACHES TO DECISION MAKING WITH INCOMPLETE INFORMATION

Julie R. Irwin, New York University

Robert Meyer, University of Pennsylvania

BACKGROUND

Many purchase decisions involve some degree of uncertainty and reasoning about missing information. The attributes and attribute levels of the goods may be incompletely expressed, the meaning of the attributes and their values may be confusing or unfamiliar, and the complex relationships among attributes may not be well understood. One useful way to conceptualize a purchase decision is as a problem to be solved; cognitive psychologists traditionally characterize a problem in terms of three distinct stages/processes: forming a search space (i.e. "consideration set"), developing a problem representation, and then employing reasoning strategies to reach a solution. The three papers in this session sequentially examined consumer decision making at each of these stages, and each of the three papers was rooted in a different influential cognitive approach, allowing the discussant and audience to compare and contrast three theories of how consumers import information into the decision process when full information is not available.

 

IMAGE THEORY AND THE FIRST PHASE: HOW ARE CONSIDERATION SETS FORMED WHEN INFORMATION IS MISSING?

Joydeep Srivastava, Gillian Naylor, Lee Roy Beach

University of Arizona

Two experiments were conducted in a purchase scenario to explore the nature of consumers' responses when they encounter missing information in a pre-choice screening task. The product used for the first experiment was described by four uncorrelated attributes. Thus, subjects could not make inferences regarding the missing attributes from the information that was present. In the second experiment, we used correlated attributes to examine whether subjects infer the value of the missing attribute from the information that was present, and whether they assume missing information implies a negative value on the attribute. The importance of the attributes within subjects was also manipulated to examine whether subjects would be more likely to infer information that is critical to the decision. We found that missing information affected pre-choice screening, but that unacceptable attribute levels had a stronger effect on screening than did missing attribute levels, and missing information was not treated as an indication of a negative attribute level.

 

WHEN IS CONSTRUCTIVE PROCESSING NECESSARY? FAMILIARITY AND REASONING IN JUDGMENT AND CHOICE

Eloise Coupey, V.P.I.

Julie R. Irwin, New York University

John Payne, Duke University

In the absence of information from memory on how or what to choose, a decision maker often must construct a preference from the information at hand. Such on-line construction can lead to preference inconsistencies across mode and context, because contextual information is used to help guide reasoning. In three experiments, we established that a prevalent inconsistency (judgment versus choice) depended on familiarity with the products (preferences for unfamiliar products were much less consistent), and that this interaction was explainable by the sorts of simplistic reasoning strategies adopted by decision makers when they lack information on how to weight the product attributes.

 

INFERENCE GENERATION AND CORRECTION: COGNITIVE CAPACITY AND THE USE OF RELEVANT CUES

Gita Venkataramani Johar, Columbia University

Carolyn Simmons, LeHigh University

We hypothesized a two-stage model of product perception such that certain "intuitive'' inferences (e.g., correlational inferences such as "high price implies high quality'') are made spontaneously without requiring much capacity. However, these inferences are then corrected if there is external information that invalidates the spontaneous inference and consumers have sufficient cognitive capacity. The cognitive capacity manipulation allows the test of the sequence in which the two stages occur. Results from two experiments partially support the hypotheses. In the first experiment, subjects in both high and low capacity conditions gave higher quality ratings to a high priced TV brand compared to a control condition not given price information. However, only subjects in the high capacity condition corrected this inference if they were also given corrective information implying that the high price-high quality inference rule was not diagnostic in this instance. Both low and high capacity subjects encoded the correction as evidenced by equivalent recall of the corrective information in both conditions. Experiment 2 found similar support for the long warranty-high quality inference. Spontaneous inferences are not frequently observed in experiments manipulating product information. However, when such inferences are made, correction appears to be the second step which is more effortful than the step of making spontaneous inferences. Faulty inferences may sometimes be maintained in the face of disconfirming information.

DISCUSSION

Robert Meyer's discussant comments centered on the sources of uncertainty in consumer choice. Consumers can be uncertain about the actual choice options available, or about how to evaluate the choice options (i.e. people may be unsure about what the object is and/or how they feel about it). He also nicely summarized the important findings and unanswered questions in each of the studies. For the screening paper, he emphasized the importance of learning and adapting; for the constructive preferences paper he surmised that the effects might depend on the nature of familiarity/experience with the products; and for the inference-making paper he suggested that the direction of effort (e.g. toward rationalizing the inference instead of correcting it) may make a difference. Discussion among the audience members followed a similar pattern and focused on the nature of familiarity and knowledge.

----------------------------------------