Special Session Summary Anticipated and Experienced Emotions in Consumer Choice

Klaus Wertenbroch, INSEAD
[ to cite ]:
Klaus Wertenbroch (2000) ,"Special Session Summary Anticipated and Experienced Emotions in Consumer Choice", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 27, eds. Stephen J. Hoch and Robert J. Meyer, Provo, UT : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 186-188.

Advances in Consumer Research Volume 27, 2000      Pages 186-188



Klaus Wertenbroch, INSEAD

This session addressed one of the phenomenologically fundamental aspects of consumer choice, the emotional experience involved in the decision making process. The characteristics and consequences of this experience are usually not captured by standard economic models of consumer choice. Consumer researchers, on the other hand, have often taken a phenomenological and subjective perspective on this issue that has been orthogonal to the more formal economic or psychological study of consumer behavior. From the former perspective, rooted, among others, in anthropology, ethnology, and sociology, the emotive, experiential character of consumer choice is paramount, both in shaping behavior as well as a phenomenon in its own right. More recently, however, behavioral decision researchers in marketing have developed a renewed, similar appreciation of the relationship between decision making and emotion. This session attempted to integrate recent research on decision making and emotion by addressing two related questions. First, how can emotional experiences involved in decision making processes be accounted for to more adequately describe and predict consumer choice? Second, how can concepts that have been developed in behavioral decision theory be incorporated into descriptive models of the emotional experience of the decision making process?

Four papers all focussed on the interaction of emotion and consumer choice. The first two examined the effects of anticipated emotions on consumer choice, while the second two explored how characteristics of the choice process affect the experienced emotions that accompany consumer choice. More specifically, the first presentation (Mellers) set the stage by presenting a more general and formal view of consumer choice as directed toward pleasure maximization. It discussed differences as well as similarities in predictions of consumer choice that are derived from principles of maximizing pleasure versus those of maximizing utility. This presentation was also intended to provide a conceptual keynote for organizing the topics of the remaining three papers. Thus, the second paper (Luce, Bettman, & Payne) explored a more specific aspect of the effect of anticipated emotions on decision making. It examined how the emotional threat associated with the presence of relatively low values on a specific attribute influences consumer choice. The remaining papers then turned to the experienced emotional consequences of consumer choice and more specifically post-decision regret. The third paper (Inman & Zeelenberg) used repeat purchasing contexts to explore the emotional consequences of consumer action versus inaction. The authors showed that consumers may experience regret not only when decision outcomes derive from action (e.g., switching brands), as much of the prior literature has maintained, but also when outcomes derive from inaction (e.g., repeat purchasing of the same brand). The last paper (Wertenbroch & Carmon) built anew, reference-dependent account of immediate post-decision regret, an aspect of consumer choice that was identified by social psychologists decades ago and that is prevalent in many phenomenological accounts of the emotional experience of consumer choice but that has not yet received attention by consumer researchers and behavioral decision theorists.



Barbara Mellers, Ohio State University

Mellers discussed the role of anticipated emotions in decision making. The most widely accepted normative theory of risky choice, subjective expected utility theory, is based on two simple constructs: utilities and beliefs. All aspects of a risky choice are represented by these constructs. The author showed how subjective expected utility theory is related to another theory of risky choice called subjective expected pleasure. This account is based on the anticipated emotions of pleasure and displeasure. People are assumed to select options that maximize their expected pleasure, although the theory is silent about the source of that pleasure. Maximizing expected pleasure is not the same as maximizing expected utility. Utilities are often assumed to be independent of beliefs. But emotional experiences vary greatly with beliefs. Unexpected outcomes are amplified relative to expected ones. Furthermore, utilities are often assumed to increase monotonically with outcomes. However, a smaller win could be more pleasurable than a larger win, if one managed to avoid a large loss in the process. That is, counterfactual comparisons play an important role. Despite these differences between immediate pleasure and utility, Mellers argued that the two strategies can lead to similar, and in some cases, identical choices. This argument provides a somewhat different answer to the question of whether people should use their emotions to guide their choices when trying to make good decisions. Some emotion-based strategies are not too dissimilar from normative theories. That is, rational choices may also be choices that maximize expected pleasure.



Mary Frances Luce, University of Pennsylvania

James R Bellman, & John W Payne, Duke University

In previous work (e.g., Luce, Payne & Bettman, forthcoming), the authors demonstrated that consumer choices arc influenced by the desire to cope with threats associated with emotion-laden attributes and / or attributes that are framed as losses. In this session, they explored a new set of studies generalizing this work to the effects of low versus high attribute values on choice. They reported recent work investigating how decision makers may cope with the conflict or threat associated with the presence of relatively low values on a specific attribute, given a well-specified range for that attribute. In particular, they investigated the hypothesis that decision makers will be motivated to cope with the increasing threat presented by low attribute values by maximizing the relevant attribute in choice. That is, generalizing from the well-accepted distinction between approach and avoidance conflicts, they argued that conflict between low attribute values will generate more emotional threat than will conflict between higher attribute values and that decision makers will be motivated to cope with this increasing threat by maximizing the problematic, low-value attribute.

The authors suggested generalizing their work on difficult tradeoffs to the effects of attribute value, as value effects are likely to be pervasive across choice situations. However, an analysis of subjects' desires to cope with low values in choice necessitates several experimental controls, as there are multiple potential pathways through which attribute values may influence choice outcomes. Thus, they developed several controls based on the decision analysis literature in order to isolate the effects they proposed. Most importantly, a simple manipulation of attribute value is likely to confound value with subjective attribute ranges, as utility functions are typically steeper at lower attribute values. (For instance, the difference between $10 and $20 may have a subjectively greater range than the difference between $110 and $120, so increasing the value of monetary levels may shrink subjective ranges). The authors used two techniques to disentangle attribute value from attribute range. In one experiment, they used an attribute bisecting task to equate subjective attribute ranges between low and high value conditions on an individualized basis. In another experiment, they directly manipulated both value and range across two preference-elicitation tasks. Specifically, they used a matching task(which is strongly influenced by range effects, but less influenced by emotional tradeoff difficulty effects) in order to develop sets of choice stimuli, for which subjects responded to attribute value but not attribute range. The authors also controlled for more general individual differences in the relative valuation of choice attributes. Thus, they reported two studies using multiple experimental controls in order to isolate subjects' tendency to cope with decision conflicts by maximizing low-value choice attributes. They also reported ratings of the emotional content of choice tasks, to further support their contention that choice effects may follow from subjects' motivations to cope with the presence of low quality-attribute values.



J. Jeffrey Inman, University of Wisconsin-Madison, and Marcel Zeelenberg, Tilburg University

Ile decision-making literature has consistently reported that inaction tends to be valued over action (e.g., Kahneman and Tversky 1982; Roese and Olson 1995), presumably because the forgone alternative is more salient in the case of action (i.e., the forgone alternative is the "status quo"). Specifically, decisions to take action rather than maintain the status quo tend to result in greater regret (e.g., Gilovich and Medvec 1995). This paper examined the consequences of inaction versus action in the context of information about prior experience, arguing that in some situations regret may be greater in the case of inaction than action. In such instances, action should be preferred to inaction, resulting in a disordinal action x prior experience interaction. In order to address the question of whether repeat purchases or brand switching will result in more regret the authors drew on the extensive stream of social psychology research addressing regret following action versus inaction (for a review see Gilovich and Medvec 1995). Virtually all of these studies show that outcomes realized through a decision to act lead to more regret than the same outcomes realized through a decision not to act. Gilovich and Medvcc (1995) conclude that this is "the clearest and most frequently replicated finding" (p. 380) in the field.

This thesis was tested in a series of five studies. Study 1 replicated the findings in the action/inaction literature, extending them to the context of consumer decisions. Study 2 added information regarding the outcome of the prior decision -as predicted, subjects regretted switching more when prior experiences were good and they regretted repeat purchases more when prior experiences were bad. Study 3 tested the proposition that this effect was caused by the prior outcome providing a reason for the behavior. Subjects in this study were asked to choose between two alternatives following either a positive or a negative prior outcome. As expected, subjects were much more likely to switch when the prior experience was negative and repeat when the prior experience was positive. In the fourth study, the authors pursued the "reasons" hypothesis further by asking subjects to justify the decision in the scenario before turning to the subsequent outcome and the post-decision measures. Consistent with predictions, the results closely mirror those of Study 2. In the final study, the authors added a manipulation of the amount of past experience the subject had with the product/service. In line with the "reasons" hypothesis, the amount of previous experience moderated the effect of the experience on the current encounter.

The research makes a threefold contribution. First, it examines the differential effects of switching versus repeat purchasing on regret, replicating the status quo bias findings in a consumer setting. Second, it shows that action is not necessarily universally regretted more than inaction. Rather, there is an interaction between action and prior experience such that switching should lead to less regret when prior experience was negative while repeat purchase should result in less regret when prior experience was positive. Third, this effect is caused by whether or not the prior information provides a reasonable basis for the decision.



Klaus Wertenbroch, INSEAD, and Ziv Carmon, Duke University

People who face a difficult decision often think that "sleeping on" the decision will help them figure out their preferences. Yet, those who follow this advice are often struck by an immediate feeling of discomfort after choosing one appealing alternative over others - a temporary but nagging sense that forgone alternatives are more desirable than they seemed prior to choosing (Lewin 1938). Consider Festinger's (1964, p. 99) example: "A person ... may shop around for an automobile to buy, investigate several kinds, and finally decide on which to purchase. As soon as the purchase is accomplished .... he may well be assailed by a sudden feeling of 'Oh, my, what have I done!"' This immediate form of post-decision regret has not received much attention in the regret literature, although it is intuitively familiar and can cause significant psychological discomfort (e.g., Lewin 1938; Walster 1964).

The authors presented a behavioral decision-theoretic view of such immediate post-decision regret. Pre-choice deliberation processes, such as carefully elaborating on the benefits of different desirable decision alternatives, can lead consumers to adapt to an anticipatory sense of ownership of these alternatives. When choosing one item over others, they forfeit that sense of ownership for any non-chosen, or forgone, alternative. Due to loss aversion, the amplified hedonic impact of losses, these forgone alternatives then appear more desirable than they did before the choice and consumers feel regret. In other words, immediate post-decision regret is a result of losing "psychological," or prefactual, ownership of forgone alternatives. This aversive prefactual endowment effect can have significant consequences for decision makers' psychological well-being, even though it is often only temporary due to the well-known dissonance reduction mechanisms it may trigger.

Evidence of the reference dependence of immediate post-decision regret came from a paper-and-pencil and a choice experiment. Study 1 showed that regret varies as a function of pre-choice adaptation to the alternatives and is accompanied by an increase in the perceived desirability of forgone alternatives. Study 2 used real choice problems and incentives to focus more specifically on these changes in desirability as a function of choosing between alternatives to which one has adapted. The presentation concluded with a discussion of implications of the results, such as how they relate to prior findings in research on cognitive dissonance and reactance.


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