The Perils of Predicting Partners’ Product Preferences

ABSTRACT - For many decisions, consumers need to consider the preferences of their relationship partners. When buying a suitable gift for his wife, for instance, a husband presumably tries to predict his partner’s attitudes towards the alternatives he considers. Also joint decisions will proceed much more smoothly when partners know each other’s preferences. Because consumers value partner approval, partner’s attitudes are even taken into account when they purchase for themselves, like in clothes shopping. Predicting partner preferences is an essential part in all these decisions.



Citation:

Davy Lerouge and Luk Warlop (2002) ,"The Perils of Predicting Partners’ Product Preferences", in AP - Asia Pacific Advances in Consumer Research Volume 5, eds. Ramizwick and Tu Ping, Valdosta, GA : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 222.

Asia Pacific Advances in Consumer Research Volume 5, 2002      Page 222

THE PERILS OF PREDICTING PARTNERS’ PRODUCT PREFERENCES

Davy Lerouge, KULeuven, Belgium

Luk Warlop, KULeuven, Belgium

ABSTRACT -

For many decisions, consumers need to consider the preferences of their relationship partners. When buying a suitable gift for his wife, for instance, a husband presumably tries to predict his partner’s attitudes towards the alternatives he considers. Also joint decisions will proceed much more smoothly when partners know each other’s preferences. Because consumers value partner approval, partner’s attitudes are even taken into account when they purchase for themselves, like in clothes shopping. Predicting partner preferences is an essential part in all these decisions.

For many complex decision tasks consumers have no pre-stored knowledge of their partner’s exact product attitude. Partner attitudes have to be predicted based on other retrievable information. A first cue is one’s own attitude towards the specific product. Ross, Green and House (1977) found that people tend to project their own beliefs, attributes, and behaviors on others, a phenomenon known as the 'false consensus effect’. However, the own attitudes are not the only source of information for making inferences about partner preferences. Consumers may also rely on other information that seems related to the prediction task. On the one hand, consumers possess partner-specific information. First, people have information with respect to the partners’ overall product preferences. This information is based on the partner’s attitudes towards similar products, feedback received during prior discussions about certain product categories, inferences made on the basis of previously observed purchasing behavior, etc. Next, people also have general information (such as personality traits) about the partner. For example, consumers may infer certain product attitudes from the fact that the partner is rather traditional. On the other hand, people also possess other, non partner-specific information. They may use stereotypical and base rate information when predicting. A husband, buying a certain product for his wife, may use his beliefs about the attitude of the average woman towards this product. When predicting their partner’s attitudes then, people make a trade-off between their own preferences and whatever information they have beyond their own attitudes (Davis, Hoch and Ragsdale 1986).

Although it reasonably could be expected that people are quite good in predicting their relationship partner’s product attitudes, Davis et al. (1986) suggest that couples are rather inaccurate in predicting each other’s product preferences. This finding is consistent with some prior research on the accuracy of inferences about partner beliefs, also suggesting that general accuracy is quite low (e.g. Kenny 1994; Swann and Gill 1997). When looking at the possible causes of prediction errors, most studies only focused on inappropriate projection of the own attitudes. However, the results of some studies on projection phenomena in the relationship domain suggest that most partners could increase their accuracy by projecting even more (Davis et al. 1986; Hoch 1987). This remarkable finding suggests that distorted preference predictions might not be due to projection but to inappropriate use of other knowledge one has about the partner.

A major objective of this study is to test this conjecture experimentally: we examine directly how partner preference predictions are affected by the awareness that one is predicting the partner’s preferences. We conducted an experiment in which couples had to predict the attitudes of their partner towards different product alternatives. In one condition we told the participants that they were predicting their partner’s attitudes. In the other condition, however, the participants thought they were predicting the attitudes of an unknown person, who in reality also was the partner. After each prediction, the real product attitude was provided.

We find that people who are aware they are predicting the attitudes of their partner do not outperform people who do not have this information. Our results also suggest that this inaccuracy is due to the use of irrelevant partner-specific information activated by the mere awareness one is predicting the preferences of one’s own partner. When similarity in attitudes between the partners is low, we even found a negative effect of this awareness. The activation of partner-specific information decreases the total quality of the information beyond the own attitudes. The participants that were unaware they were predicting their partner’s attitudes could only rely on very general base-rate, or even stereotypical, knowledge. While not very informative, this information seems less misleading. In this sense the condition in which the participants are unaware they are dealing with their partner, is an appropriate benchmark to investigate the sources of inaccuracy in spousal attitude prediction. When similarity is high, the perils of partner-specific information disappear. This corresponds to the finding of Hoch (1987) that spouses who are more similar are better able to capitalize on relevant partner knowledge than spouses who are less similar.

REFERENCES

Davis, Harry L., Stephen J. Hoch and E. K. Easton Ragsdale (1986), "An Anchoring and Adjustment Model of Spousal Predictions," Journal of Consumer Research, 13 (June), 25-37.

Hoch, Stephen J. (1987), "Perceived Consensus and Predictive Accuracy: The Pros and Cons of Projection," Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 53 (2), 221-234.

Kenny, David A. (1994), Interpersonal Perception: A Social Relations Analysis, New York: Guilford Press.

Ross, Lee, David Green and Pamela House (1977), "The False Consensus Effect: An Egocentric Bias in Social Perception and Attribution Processes", Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 13 (3), 279-301.

Swann, William B. Jr. and Michael J. Gill (1997), "Confidence and accuracy in person perception: do we know what we think we know about our relationship partners?" Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 73 (4), 747-757.

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Authors

Davy Lerouge, KULeuven, Belgium
Luk Warlop, KULeuven, Belgium



Volume

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



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