A Dynamic Choice Process: How Choices Generate Biased Memory That Influences Future Choices

Cathy Yi Chen, UCLA
Shi Zhang, UCLA
EXTENDED ABSTRACT - Previous research has examined the effect of memory on choices (e.g., Biehal & Chakravarti 1986, Lynch & Srull 1982). There is some limited research that has explored how making a choice could bias memory (Mather, Shafir & Johnson, 2000). However, no research has attempted to take a combined view to study the choice process. In this research, we suggest that choice behavior should be viewed as a dynamic process. What people have already chosen and how they have made the choices should affect what they remember about the chosen and non-chosen options, which in turn will affect their future choices. We set up such a choice-memory-choice experimental paradigm and investigate the process in two experiments. We present evidence that types of choice conflicts bias memory towards the chosen option differently, biased memory affects future choices and the impact is moderated by the level of differentiation of the new option in the second choice. We also distinguished two types of biased memory both theoretically and experimentally.
[ to cite ]:
Cathy Yi Chen and Shi Zhang (2003) ,"A Dynamic Choice Process: How Choices Generate Biased Memory That Influences Future Choices", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 30, eds. Punam Anand Keller and Dennis W. Rook, Valdosta, GA : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 109-110.

Advances in Consumer Research Volume 30, 2003     Pages 109-110

A DYNAMIC CHOICE PROCESS: HOW CHOICES GENERATE BIASED MEMORY THAT INFLUENCES FUTURE CHOICES

Cathy Yi Chen, UCLA

Shi Zhang, UCLA

EXTENDED ABSTRACT -

Previous research has examined the effect of memory on choices (e.g., Biehal & Chakravarti 1986, Lynch & Srull 1982). There is some limited research that has explored how making a choice could bias memory (Mather, Shafir & Johnson, 2000). However, no research has attempted to take a combined view to study the choice process. In this research, we suggest that choice behavior should be viewed as a dynamic process. What people have already chosen and how they have made the choices should affect what they remember about the chosen and non-chosen options, which in turn will affect their future choices. We set up such a choice-memory-choice experimental paradigm and investigate the process in two experiments. We present evidence that types of choice conflicts bias memory towards the chosen option differently, biased memory affects future choices and the impact is moderated by the level of differentiation of the new option in the second choice. We also distinguished two types of biased memory both theoretically and experimentally.

In the first experiment, we investigated the impact of two levels of choice conflicts on positive-biased memory towards the chosen option, and also explored the impact of biased memory on future choices. Subjects were first asked to choose from either a high conflict pair of options (i.e., both options are equally attractive) or a low conflict pair (i.e., one option is more attractive than the other). After either a short or a long delay, subjects were given a free recall task and a recognition task. They were then presented with a new, moderately superior option and were asked to make a second choice.

Previous research has suggested some negative effect of high conflict choices. For example, high conflict choices may generate more negative affect towards the choice process, which consequently lower participants’ evaluations of the original choice options. We predict that, when the role of biased memory in the choice process is taken into consideration, relative to low conflict choices, high conflict choices will show a long term benefit for the chosen option because of the stronger encoding strength of the positive attributes of the chosen option.

Consistent with our hypotheses, we found that after a long delay, subjects in the high conflict condition showed more positive-biased memory towards the chosen option than subjects in the low conflict condition, whereas after a short delay, the opposite pattern was observed. The positive-biased memory was reflected in participants’ recall of more positive attributes about the chosen option and the tendency of (mis)attributing more positive attributes to the chosen option. Moreover, we found that the significant conflict by delay interaction was mainly a result of confused misrecalls (misattributions). That is, rather than selectively remembering more positive attributes of the chosen option, subjects in the high conflict condition (vs. in the low conflict condition) were more likely to attribute the positive attributes of the non-chosen option to the chosen option after a long delay. However, the opposite pattern was observed after a short delay. We also found that the biased memory affects future choices. After a long delay, subjects in the high conflict condition (vs. low conflict condition) were less likely to switch to the new option in the second choice, whereas the opposite pattern was observed after a short delay. It was also shown that the correlation between confused memory and second choice increased after a long delay.

The first experiment focused on the encoding stage of the biased memory and we found evidence that the choice conflicts affected the encoding of the information and thus the biased memory. Evidence also showed that biased memory resulted in non-optimal choice behavior and increased loyalty to a less superior option. The second experiment focused on the retrieval stage of biased memory and examined under what conditions the effect of biased memory can be attenuated. Specifically, we manipulated the retrieval cues provided by the new option in the second choice by making it more or less differentiated from the original options.

The biased memory for the chosen option was less likely to be retrieved in the more differentiated condition because of fewer available retrieval cues and the retrospective interference generated by learning more unique features. Even if some biased memory may retrieved, it was less diagnostic when the new option was more differentiated (vs. less differentiated). Therefore, we hypothesize that the differentiated option will attenuate the effect of biased memory and after a long delay, this effect will be more significant in the high conflict condition (vs. the low conflict condition) where there was more biased memory.

This experiment was a 2 (high vs. low conflict) by 2 (highly vs. less differentiated new option) between-subject design. As we predicted, the percentage of subjects who switched to the new option in the second choice was higher in the more differentiated condition only when the conflict was high. When the conflict was low, however, we found that the percentage of switching to the new option was lower in the more differentiated condition, though not statistically significant. Consistent with the findings in experiment 1, the memory was more biased in the high conflict condition (vs. low conflict condition). But the mean level of biased memory was lower in experiment 2 than in experiment 1, which can be explained by the reduced product categories used in the stimuli. A mediation analysis supported the argument that switching was mediated by biased memory.

In sum, this research project aims to understand the choice process by incorporating the choice-induced biased memory into the dynamic. We examined both the encoding stage and the retrieval stage of the biased memory in order to provide a comprehensive view as to (1) how memory could be biased by previous choices, (2) what theoretical explanations can better explain the pattern of choice-biased memory, (3) how biased memory change over time, and (4) how memory biases can be attenuated. We provide new insights about the impact of choice conflicts on biased memory and better understanding of biased memory.

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