To Choose Or to Reject: It Is Up to Who I Am. the Impact of Self-Construal on Decision Strategy

ABSTRACT - Drawing on recent research in culture orientation, self-construal and self-regulatory focus, this paper proposes that there is a systematic impact of self-construal on decision strategy. More specifically, decision makers with independent self-construals tend to use a choosing strategy while decision makers with interdependent self-construals tend to use a rejecting strategy. We further hypothesize that this difference is moderated by task compatibility. We test these hypotheses using a sample of 83 subjects who made decisions about a vacation spot. Results seem to support most of our hypotheses.



Citation:

Yinlong Zhang, Vikas Mittal, and Lawrence Feick (2002) ,"To Choose Or to Reject: It Is Up to Who I Am. the Impact of Self-Construal on Decision Strategy", in AP - Asia Pacific Advances in Consumer Research Volume 5, eds. Ramizwick and Tu Ping, Valdosta, GA : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 212-216.

Asia Pacific Advances in Consumer Research Volume 5, 2002      Pages 212-216

TO CHOOSE OR TO REJECT: IT IS UP TO WHO I AM. THE IMPACT OF SELF-CONSTRUAL ON DECISION STRATEGY

Yinlong Zhang, University of Pittsburgh, U.S.A.

Vikas Mittal, University of Pittsburgh, U.S.A.

Lawrence Feick, University of Pittsburgh, U.S.A.

ABSTRACT -

Drawing on recent research in culture orientation, self-construal and self-regulatory focus, this paper proposes that there is a systematic impact of self-construal on decision strategy. More specifically, decision makers with independent self-construals tend to use a choosing strategy while decision makers with interdependent self-construals tend to use a rejecting strategy. We further hypothesize that this difference is moderated by task compatibility. We test these hypotheses using a sample of 83 subjects who made decisions about a vacation spot. Results seem to support most of our hypotheses.

Fish and bear paws, both are desirable. But cannot be obtained simultaneously. So you have to give up one of them.

Ancient Chinese Proverb

With will to choose or to reject, and I choose.

Emily Dickinson

Contrast the typical political figures in the East and West. Relatively speaking, the Eastern political prototype has a moderate, but impoverished image, while the Western political model tends to be enriched and even controversial. For example, former U.S president Bill Clinton has a very enriched image (i.e., having many positive and negative attributes). Comparatively, former Japanese Prime minister Tsutomu Hata has a very impoverished image (i.e., having very few positive or negative attributes). Why this difference? Besides institutional factors, how might culture and its associated constructs such as collectivism vs. individualism or independent vs. interdependent self-construal explain this difference?

This paper argues that self-construal has a systematic impact on one’s preferred decision strategy. More specifically, decision makers with interdependent self-construals (for example, Asian culture groups) tend to use a rejecting strategy to decide among options whereas, decision makers with independent self-construal (for example, U.S. or European culture groups) tend to use a choosing strategy to decide among options. A strategy of choosing implies focusing on the goal-promotion aspects of the options while a strategy of rejecting implies focusing attention on goal-prevention aspects of the options and then reject among the undesirable ones (Kuhberger, 1998; Levine, Schneider and Gaeth, 1998; Shafir, 1993). For example, when faced with a decision between the impoverished and enriched political candidates, there are two possible ways to process the task, either by choosing or rejecting. Accordingly, decision makers with independent self-construals tend to use choosing strategy and end up with the enriched option, and decision makers with interdependent self-construals tend to use rejecting strategy and end up with the impoverished option.

This paper contributes to the literature by extending the impact of self-construal and cultural orientation to consumer decision making. More substantively, we outline new boundary conditions for task framing effects and provide new insights on the discrepant findings about the decision outcome of enriched vs. impoverished options in the choosing vs. rejecting tasks in the literature. In doing so, we also provide a new test of the compatibility principle.

CONCEPTUAL BACKGROUND

Recent cross-culture studies have shown that studying the impact of self-construal can provide important insights into decision-making. At the social or group level, individualism and collectivism have been shown to influence a variety of phenomena such as attitude accessibility and perceived diagnosticity of information (Aaker, 2000) and, attitude-behavior consistency (Trafimow, Trandis and Goto, 1991; see Trandis, 1995 for a review). At the individual level, they have been shown to influence individual psychological processes such as judgments (Gardner, Gabriel and Lee, 1999) and affect (Hong, Morris and Chiu, 2000).

Overall, these relationships can be summarized as following: in both individualism and collectivism cultures, people tend to hold both independent and interdependent self-construals (Markus and Kitayama, 1991; 1996; Trandis, 1989; 1995). In individualism culture, the independent self-construal is prevalent and dominant; while in collectivism culture, the interdependent self-construal is prevalent and dominant. In other words, the chronically accessible self-construal in individualism setting is independent; in collectivism settings, it is interdependent (Sengelis, 1994; Sengelis and Sharkey, 1995). In addition to chronic accessibility, self-construals tend to be influenced by situational factors, such as event priming (Trafimow et al, 1991) and cultural symbols framing (Hong et al, 2000). By manipulating the self-construal of individual within a nation, many cross-cultural differences obtained by between-nation comparison have been observed and received strong causal support (See Gardner et al., 1999; Hong et al., 2000; Zhang, 1999; Zhang, Feick, Price and Khare, 2001).

Studies also show that self-construal has a systematic influence on self-regulatory focus (Lee, Aaker and Gardner, 2000). More specifically, when subjects’ independent self-construal is activated, they tend to hold a promotional focus, and consequently pay more attention to goal promotional (such as gain or other positively framed) information. On the other hand, when subjects’ interdependent self-construal is activated, a prevention focus ensues, resulting in greater sensitivity to prevention (such as loss or other negatively framed) information. Further, promotional and prevention focus are independent of information valence (Crowe and Higgins, 1997; Higgins, Crowe and Hymes, 1994; Higgins and Friedman, 1997). Through negation approach (such as testing whether subjects with promotional goals will be similarly sensitive to "not to hit" information as "hit" information and subjects with prevention goals will be similarly sensitive to "not to miss" as to "miss" information), subjects with independent self-construals have been shown to be more sensitive to negatively framed promotional information (if you don’t do well on the exercise) and to positively framed promotional information (if you do well on the task). Correspondingly, subjects with interdependent self-construals have been shown to be more sensitive to negatively framed prevention information (if you don’t do poorly on the task) and to positively framed prevention information (if you do poorly on the task).

In line with the compatibility principle (Shafir, 1993; Tversky and Kaneman, 1986), and this systematic difference in promotional or prevention focus, different self-construals may activate different decision strategies. Generally speaking, the same decision task can be processed either using a choosing strategy or using a rejecting strategy. For example, when faced with decisions among several options, subjects can process this task as choosing the best (promotional focus) or as rejecting the worst option (prevention focus). When applying a choosing strategy, subjects tend to put more weight on the goal-promotion aspects of each option. When applying a rejecting strategy, subjects tend to put more weight on the goal-prevention aspects of each option. Though normatively these two strategies should produce equivalent outcomes, empirical evidence shows that they produce divergent outcomes (Ganzach, 1995; Shafir, 1993; Wedell, 1997). Recall that, a promotion focus is concerned with advancement, growth, and accomplishment, whereas prevention focus is concerned with security, safety, and responsibility (Higgins, 1997). Consequently, subjects with a promotion focus may tend to take a promotional strategy to insure hits and prevent omissions, whereas subjects with a prevention focus may tend to take a prevention strategy to insure correct rejection and prevent errors of commission.

Other lines of reasoning suggest a similar outcome. For instance, the two self-construals also differ from each other on optimism vs. pessimism and self-improving vs. self-criticism tendency (Lee et al., 2000). Again, these suggest that independent self-construals tend to lead to a focus on information related to goal attainment while interdependent self-construals tend to lead to a focus on information related to goal prevention. Consequently, independent self-construals might recruit more promotional situations to exercise the choosing strategy, while interdependent self-construal might recruit more prevention situations to exercise the rejecting strategy. This suggests:

H1: Independent self-construals tend to activate the choosing strategy to make a decision, while interdependent self-construals tend to activate a rejecting strategy to make decision.

In addition to activated self-construals, task framing by directly asking subjects to reject or to choose also affects decision strategy (Ganzach, 1995; Shafir, 1993; Wedell, 1997). Is the effect of these two factors interactive or simply additive? According to compatibility principle, when the two factors are compatible with each other an interactive effect should occur, but a simple additive effect should be observed when the two factors are incompatible with each other. Thus we propose:

H2: The impact of task frame on decision strategy should be moderated by the activated self-construal.

Hypothesis 1 and 2 make predictions about the main and interactive effect on decision strategy. Will these effects hold on decision outcomes? Three divergent views exist in the literature.

According to Shafir (1993), when subjects apply a choosing strategy, they tend to put more weight on positive aspects, and when they apply a rejecting strategy they tend to put more weight on negative aspects. This differential weighting can lead to very different decision outcomes when deciding between the impoverished and enriched options. Accordingly:

H3a: Decision makers with independent self-construals put more weight on positive features, so they prefer the enriched option to the improvised one when asked to choose. In contrast, when asked to reject, people with interdependent self-construals will put more weight on negative aspects and tend to reject the enriched option and prefer the impoverished. This will be reversed when they are asked to choose.

However, Ganzach (1995) argues that a choosing strategy tend to induce greater commitment for decision makers than a rejecting strategy. This greater commitment tends to elicit a conjunctive strategy instead of a disjunctive strategy. Further, negative information tends to be weighted more heavily in a conjunctive than a disjunctive strategy (Anderson, 1981). Consequently, negative values receive more weight in choosing than in rejecting. Consistent with this reasoning, Ganzach (1995) found that the impoverished option was preferred more in choice than in rejection. According to this logic we expect:

H3b: Decision makers with independent self-construals put more weight on the negative features of each option preferring the impoverished option to the enriched one when asked to choose. This tendency will be reversed when asked to reject. In contrast, decision makers with interdependent self-construals put more weight on positive aspects of each option rejecting the impoverished option and preferring the enriched option when asked to reject. This tendency will be reversed when asked to choose.

To reconcile the differences between these competing predictions, Wedell (1997) put forward an accentuation hypothesis. Accordingly, the preference for an enriched versus impoverished option depends on the relative attractiveness difference between the two. More specifically, the proposed task frame effect will happen only when the two options are not equally attractive. If the enriched option is more attractive than the impoverished option then Shafir’s prediction should hold. If the impoverished option is more attractive than the enriched option then Ganzach’s prediction should apply. Thus, the accentuation hypothesis would suggest:

H3c: When the enriched option is equally attractive to the impoverished option, no self-construal effect should be observed. When the enriched option is more attractive than the impoverished option, H3a should be supported. When the enriched option is less attractive than the impoverished option, H3b should apply.

By testing these three rival hypotheses, the following experiment functions as a critical test among the three.

METHOD

Design and Procedure

A 2 (self-construal priming: independent vs. interdependent) * 2 (task framing: choose vs. reject) between subject design was used to test the hypotheses. Eighty three undergraduate students from a large northeastern U.S. university participated in this study to obtain course credit. They were told that they were participating in two different studies.

The first study was labeled as a character evaluation study and the second was labeled as a vacation spot decision study. In actuality, the first study was the priming material for activating the independent or interdependent self-construal.

Subjects read the priming material and rated their attitudes toward the main character. For the second study, subjects were told to imagine that they were planning a vacation for themselves. Subjects were asked to choose or reject an option to make their decisions depending on the task frame conditions. Immediately after the decision listed their reasons for their decisions. This was followed by a series of questions on decision strategy, option attractiveness, information processing effort, and attribute importance. The 16-item scale on self-construal was administered last (Singelis, 1994).

Priming Materials

The self-construal priming material was adapted from Trafimow et al. (1991). Subjects read a description that emphasized the individual benefits of a choice (independent) or the group’s benefits of a choice (interdependent). Several authors have used this manipulation (Aaker and Lee 2001, Zhang 1999) and it has been shown to be reliable prime for self-construal.

Decision

Subjects were asked to make the vacation spot decision. Attributes of the two vacation spots were adapted from past studies (Dhar, Nowlis and Sherman, 1999). These attributes were offered in an attribute by alternative table. To make the stimuli more realistic, subjects were told that all the attribute values were taken from Consumer Reports. They were also informed about the scale for attribute values: 0 means the quality is extremely bad, 50 means the quality is average, and 100 means the quality is extremely good. Thus, larger values indicate higher attractiveness, though in our stimuli the mean value for both options was 50. The enriched option was operationalized with high variance and impoverished option with low variance on the attribute values. Both verbal and numerical values have been used to operationalize the enriched and impoverished options (Ganzach, 1995; Shafir, 1993; Wedell, 1997). We believe that using numerical values offers a more stringent test than verbal descriptors.

Measurement

Subjects were asked to pick the option they chose or rejected. This provided the key choice data. A 7-point scale was used to measure the decision strategy (7=it is easier to choose one option than to reject one). Similarly, information processing focus was measured using with four 7-point scales (1=strongly disagree, 7=strongly agree). An example of an item is "when making decision, I mainly focused on the positive aspects." Subjects also completed a series of ancillary measures that included a manipulation check on option attractiveness (1=extremely unattractive, 7=extremely attractive), importance of the attributes (1=extremely unimportant, 7=extremely important) and measures on information processing effort, and the Singelis (1994) independent-interdependent self-construal scale (16 items were used due to time constraint, a=0.70).

RESULTS

Manipulation checks

We average 8 items to form a composite index of interdependent self-construal and the other 8 items to form a composite index of independent self-construal. The groups differ significantly on the interdependent self (M independent priming=4.76, M interdependent priming=5.52, F (1, 81)=5.66, p<0.05), as well as on the independent self (M independent priming=6.05, M interdependent priming=5.71, F (1, 81)=2.56, p<0.05). There was no interaction between self-construal priming and processing effort. Thus, self-construal differences cannot be attributed to different processing effort between the groups.

We also ran a full ANOVA model to test the relative attractiveness between the two options, all p>0.05. This suggests that the two options were perceived as equally attractive.

Tests of Hypotheses

H1 proposed a main effect of self-construal and task frame on decision strategy, and H2 proposed an interaction effect of self-construal and task frame. We ran an ANOVA to test these two hypotheses. We used the item of "it is easier to choose than to reject" as the dependent variable. On this measurement, consistent with H1, the main effect task frame is significant, F (1, 79)=4.12, p<0.05, and the main effect of self-construal is approaching significance, F (1, 79)=2.13, p=0.15. Consistent with the task frame effect, subjects found that it is much easier to choose than to reject when asked to choose than when asked to reject (Mchoose=4.63 vs. Mreject=4.23). Consistent with the self-construal effect, subjects found that it is much easier to choose than to reject when the independent self-construal is activated than when the interdependent self-construal is activated (Mindependent priming=4.57 vs. Minterdependent priming=4.29). Furthermore, the interaction effect was significant, F (1, 79)=5.94, p<0.05. Consistent with H2, when independent self-construal is activated, subjects found that it is much easier to choose than to reject (Mchoose=5.01 vs. Mreject=4.13, p<0.05). However, when interdependent self-construal is activated, subjects found that to reject is not easier than to choose (Mchoose=4.25 vs. Mreject=4.33, p>0.70).

We also tested the effect on decision weighting. Using the two items about attention on positive or negative aspects of each option we formed a composite index of decision weighting. Consistent with H3a, the interaction effect between self-construal and task frame approached significance, F (1, 79)=3.32, p<0.08. Specifically, on the attention to positive aspects, we have the following means: for interdependent self-construal, Mchoose=4.67 vs. Mreject=4.72 and for independent self-construal, Mchooe=5.56 vs. M reject=4.62; On the attention to negative aspects, for interdependent self-construal, Mchoose=3.56 vs. Mreject=3.45 and for independent self-construal, Mchoose=2.72 vs. Mreject=3.86. These results show that an interdependent self-construal makes subjects pay more attention to negative aspects and an independent self-construal makes subjects pay more attention to positive aspects, though mean differences are small. Thus, the compatibility principle seems to be supported by our data.

The results for decision outcome are more complex than the decision strategy. Two kinds of analyses were run to test the hypotheses about decision outcomes. Following the approach by Shafir (1993) to test the compatibility principle, we cross-tabulate the choice incidence with task frame. For all subjects we found that the summed proportion of choosing and rejecting impoverished option (120%) is bigger than 100% instead of that of the enriched option (80%). This is the case for interdependent self-construal priming (142%) but not for the independent self-construal priming (100%). According to Shafir’s proposal, the enriched option should be chosen in the choice task and also be rejected in the rejecting task. Consequently, for the enriched option, the summed proportion should be more than 100% between choosing and rejecting. According to Ganzach’s thesis, the impoverished option should be chosen in the choice task and also be rejected in the rejecting task, and consequently, for the impoverished option, the summed proportion should be bigger than 100% between choosing and rejecting. Our data seems to be consistent with Ganzach’s view.

Second, a logistic regression was run to test the effect on choice outcome. In this model, only the interaction effect is significant (b=-0.38, p<0.05), but the two main effects of task frame and self-construal are not statistically significant (p>0.25). Consistent with the above discussion, the difference between choosing and rejecting for an impoverished option is more significant for interdependent self-construal than for independent self-construal (See the choice proportion discussed above). When attribute importance is included as a covariate, the results are unchanged, suggesting that attribute importance was not responsible for our findings.

To test Wedell’s accentuation hypothesis, we ran an ANOVA on the relative attractiveness between the enriched and impoverished options, and no effects are significant (all p>0.20). This pattern is inconsistent with accentuation hypothesis. If the attractiveness is held constant, according to accentuation hypothesis, no effect of task frame should be obtained. Returning to above data on choice outcome, we can see that this is not the case.

Summarizing the above analyses, we can see that the pattern of results is too complex to be accommodated by any one specific theory, even though the results are most consistent with Ganzach’s thesis: choice is more likely to induce more commitment and a conjunctive strategy than is rejection.

DISCUSSION

We show that interdependent self-construals tend to induce a rejecting strategy and independent self-construals tend to induce choosing. The results of process and decision outcome analyses provided preliminary convergent evidence for our hypotheses.

Our study extends the research examining the impact of self-construal (cultural orientation) on consumer decisions, especially choice. This result is important as most of the emerging literature nly examines attitude and persuasion. In addition, our paper offers a boundary condition for the demonstrated self-construal effect. Our study also offers a critical test of three perspectives on the effect of task frame on choice strategies. Though much of our data is consistent with Ganzach’s proposal, the issue is far from resolved and merits future research.

In addition to the above-mentioned insights, this study also has a methodological implication. If different self-construals (cultural orientation) react to the choosing or rejecting strategy differently, then it is necessary to make sure that appropriate question frame should be used for the questionnaire design especially when doing cross cultural or international research on market share and preference of brands.

LIMITATIONS AND FUTURE DIRECTIONS

Due to the nature of the participants and hypothetical scenario, generalizability is an issue. Second, our effect on choice outcome is not strong. To remedy this, further research should run the task frame effect with three options instead of two options. Ganzach (1995) found that when only two options were used to test the task frame effect, the difference between choosing and rejecting did not occur. However, when three options were used, he did obtain the predicted difference between choosing and rejecting. According to Shafir (1993), people tend to reframe the rejecting strategy to choosing strategy when they are deciding between two options. Compared to the task framing, the decision set size is the intrinsic quality of the decision task (Tykocinski, Higgins, and Chaiken, 1994). The more options in the set, the higher effort needs to make the decision. When the decision strategy implications from activated self-construal and the set size are incongruent, subjects tend to resolve the conflict in the direction of set size. Since under such circumstances, the number of options in the decision set will be the dominating force to influence subjects’ decision strategy (Shafir, 1993). Third, we operationalized the enriched vs. impoverished options with numerical values instead of verbal descriptions. While past studies have not been very concerned with operationalization, we need to clarify the role of numerical vs. verbal description in obtaining the proposed effects. Finally, we tested the effects only through self-construal manipulation within one country, and we hope to extend our conclusion to cross-cultural differences. This would be done by obtaining cross-national samples.

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Authors

Yinlong Zhang, University of Pittsburgh, U.S.A.
Vikas Mittal, University of Pittsburgh, U.S.A.
Lawrence Feick, University of Pittsburgh, U.S.A.



Volume

AP - Asia Pacific Advances in Consumer Research Volume 5 | 2002



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