Preference For Control and Its Effect on the Evaluation of Consumption Experiences

Simona Botti, University of Chicago
Ann L. McGill, University of Chicago
Sheena S. Iyengar, Columbia University
EXTENDED ABSTRACT - The objective of the present research is to explore the relationship between perceived control over a consumption experience and level of satisfaction with that experience to understand whether being in control always leads to greater satisfaction. Control is here defined as the freedom of choosing an alternative from a choice set, instead of being assigned to the same alternative from the same set.
[ to cite ]:
Simona Botti, Ann L. McGill, and Sheena S. Iyengar (2003) ,"Preference For Control and Its Effect on the Evaluation of Consumption Experiences", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 30, eds. Punam Anand Keller and Dennis W. Rook, Valdosta, GA : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 127-128.

Advances in Consumer Research Volume 30, 2003     Pages 127-128

PREFERENCE FOR CONTROL AND ITS EFFECT ON THE EVALUATION OF CONSUMPTION EXPERIENCES

Simona Botti, University of Chicago

Ann L. McGill, University of Chicago

Sheena S. Iyengar, Columbia University

EXTENDED ABSTRACT -

The objective of the present research is to explore the relationship between perceived control over a consumption experience and level of satisfaction with that experience to understand whether being in control always leads to greater satisfaction. Control is here defined as the freedom of choosing an alternative from a choice set, instead of being assigned to the same alternative from the same set.

Early literature on control and choice agrees on the idea that people like choosing because of its association with self-determination and sense of mastery (Averill 1973; deCharms 1968; Langer 1975). Empirical evidence also suggests that people are more satisfied with free-choice than with imposed-choice outcomes (Brehm 1966; Deci and Ryan 1987; Zuckerman et al. 1978) both because choosers can match personal preferences with available options (Chernev, forthcoming; Iyengar and Lepper 2000) and because people bolster the value of choices to which they have committed (Beattie et al. 1994; Festinger 1975; Gilbert et al. 1998; Shafir, Simonson, and Tversky 1993; Tetlock, Skitka, and Boettger 1989). Recent findings, however, suggest that choosers may end up less satisfied than non-choosers (Benartzi and Thaler 2002; Brown and Feinberg 2001).

This research explores circumstances in which people may prefer choosing to not-choosing and yet end up worse-off for having done so. It is here proposed that people want to choose because they believe that personal choice leads to satisfaction. Instead, satisfaction depends on the affect experienced during the decision-process, which carries over to the evaluation of the choice outcome (Iyengar and Lepper 2000; Loewenstein et al. 2001; Luce, Bettman, and Payne 2001; Slovic et al. 2001). As suggested by previous research (Busemeyer and Townsend 1993; Anand-Keller and McGill 1994; Shiv and Huber 2000), during the decision process people anticipate the outcome of a given course of action. If this outcome is anticipated to be positive, both choosers and non-choosers experience positive affect. However, choosers’ affect is more positive than non-choosers’ because choosers feel responsible for improving their own future well-being (Beattie et al. 1994; Burger 1989). On the contrary, if the outcome is anticipated to be negative, choosers’ affect will be less positive than non-choosers’ because choosers feel responsible for hampering, rather than improving, their own well-being (Dhar 1997; Gilovich and Medvec 1995; Luce et al. 2001). It is here hypothesized that, because of the affect carryover, when it is easier to anticipate a positive choice outcome choosers experience higher positive affect and higher satisfaction than non-choosers, while when it is more difficult to anticipate a positive choice outcome the difference between choosers and non-choosers’ affect and satisfaction is attenuated and can even reverse.

These predictions were tested in two experiments. In the first experiment, control was manipulated by freedom of choice, while choice-task conflict manipulated ease of anticipating a positive choice outcome. The intuition is that in low-conflict choice tasksCin which there is a clearly superior alternative (Luce et al. 2001)Cit is easier to anticipate a positive outcome than in high-conflict choice tasksCin which none of the alternatives is clearly superior to the others. This experiment involved the selection and tasting of a coffee blend. Choosers selected the blend to taste out of four alternatives, while non-choosers were yoked to choosers so that they were given the blend that was selected by their choice counterpart. This choice was illusory, though, because all participants eventually tasted the same blend. Before the selection, participants saw a description of the attributes of the four coffee blends. Low-conflict participants saw a description in which the ratings of the attributes identified one dominating option, while high-conflict participants saw a description in which the ratings of the attributes did not identify any dominating options.

Results of the first experiment supported the hypotheses: In the low-conflict condition, choosers experienced higher positive task-related affect and higher satisfaction with the outcome than non-choosers. In the high-conflict condition, on the contrary, there was no difference between choosers’ and non-choosers’ affect and satisfaction. A mediation analysis showed that affect mediated the effect of choice and conflict on satisfaction. As expected, however, people preferred choosing to not choosing across conflict conditions.

Results of the first study were consistent with the theory but did not show a reversal in affect and satisfaction between choosers and non-choosers. Hence, a stronger manipulation of ease of anticipating a positive choice outcome was used in the second study. This study involved selection and tasting of seasoned yogurts. Ease of anticipating a positive choice outcome was manipulated by the desirability of the choice options. In the desirable choice condition, participants chose among all appealing yogurt flavors (e.g. plain yogurt with cinnamon, cocoa, mint, or brown sugar) while in the aversive condition participants chose among all aversive yogurt flavors (e.g. plain yogurt with tarragon, ground sage, chili powder, or celery seeds) under the assumption that it is easier to anticipate a positive choice outcome when choosing among desirable than aversive options. Results of this study showed the expected reversal: Choosers experienced more positive affect and higher satisfaction than non choosers in the desirable condition, while in the aversive condition choosers experienced less positive affect and lower satisfaction than non-choosers. Choosers even consumed a lower amount of yogurt than non-choosers in the aversive choice condition. Consistent with previous results, though, participants preferred choosing to not choosing regardless of the desirability of the choice options.

In conclusion, this research suggests that in many cases people prefer choosing to not choosing because they believe choosing leads to higher satisfaction. However, choosers are indeed more satisfied than non-choosers only when they can easily anticipate higher happiness as a result of their own choices. These results have important implications for marketers who have been incurring the costs of shifting control to customers (e.g. providing flexible offers) under the assumption that empowered customers are also happier customers. The two studies presented in this paper suggest instead that these costs may not always been justified by an increase in customer satisfaction.

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