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

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 sequential 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 affects their future choices. We set up such a choice-memory-choice experimental paradigm and investigate the dynamic choice process in two experiments. We present evidence that types of choice conflicts bias memory towards the chosen option differently, biased memory has an impact on future choices and the impact is affected by the level of differentiation of the new option in the second choice.



Citation:

Cathy Yi Chen and Shi Zhang (2002) ,"A Dynamic Choice Process: How Choices Generate Biased Memory That Influences Future Choices", in AP - Asia Pacific Advances in Consumer Research Volume 5, eds. Ramizwick and Tu Ping, Valdosta, GA : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 349-350.

Asia Pacific Advances in Consumer Research Volume 5, 2002      Pages 349-350

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

Cathy Yi Chen, UCLA, U.S.A.

Shi Zhang, UCLA, U.S.A.

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 sequential 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 affects their future choices. We set up such a choice-memory-choice experimental paradigm and investigate the dynamic choice process in two experiments. We present evidence that types of choice conflicts bias memory towards the chosen option differently, biased memory has an impact on future choices and the impact is affected by the level of differentiation of the new option in the second choice.

In the first experiment, we investigated the impact of two levels of choice conflicts on positive-biased memory towards the chosen option in both short and long time delay, 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 were equally attractive) or a low conflict pair (i.e., one option was 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 mainly suggested a negative effect of high conflict choice situations. That is, relative to low conflict situations, high conflict choices should lead to more deferrals of making a choice or generate more negative affect towards the choice process, which consequently would 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. The positive-biased memory was reflected in participants’ recall of more positive attributes about the chosen option and their tendency of (mis)attributing more positive attributes to the chosen option. In contrast, after a short delay, subjects in the low conflict condition showed more positive-biased memory towards the chosen option than subjects in the high conflict condition.

We also found that the biased memory had an effect on future choices. After a long delay, subjects in the high conflict condition were less likely to switch to the new option in the second choice than subjects in the low conflict condition, whereas the opposite pattern was observed after a short delay. Moreover, we found that the significant conflict by delay interaction was mainly a result of confused misrecalls (misattributions), defined as subjects’ misrecall (or misattribution) of the attributes of one option for another option. Rather than selectively remembering more positive attributes of the chosen option, subjects tended to attribute the positive attributes of the non-chosen option to the chosen option. This misrecall was more pronounced for subjects in the high conflict condition than subjects in the low conflict condition after a long delay; however, in the short delay condition, the opposite pattern was observed. Importantly, we found that it was the confused misattribution that was more responsible for the switching behavior in the second choice.

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 decreased. 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.

By making the new option more or less differentiated from the original options (manipulated by changing the number of unique features contained in the new option), we provided subjects with fewer or more retrieval cues. The biased memory for the chosen option was less likely to be retrieved in the more differentiated condition because of fewer retrieval cues available and the retrospective interference generated by the necessity to learn more unique features. Even if some biased memory has been retrieved, it was less diagnostic when the new option was more differentiated (vs. less differentiated). Therefore, we hypothesize that the differentiated option will decrease the effect of biased memory and this decrease will be more significant under the high conflict condition (vs. the low conflict condition) where there is more biased memory.

This experiment was a 2 (high vs. low conflict) by 2 (highly differentiated 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 under the high conflict condition than under the low conflict condition. But the mean level of biased memory was lower in experiment 2 than in experiment 1. This 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 will change over time, and (4) how memory biases can be corrected. We provide new insights about both the impact of choice conflicts on biased memory and the impact of biased memory on future choices.

REFERENCES

Bjork, Robert A, Elizabeth L. Bjork, A New Theory of Disuse and An Old Theory of Stimulus Fluctuation, Essays in Honor of William K. Estes, Alice F. Healy and Stephen Michael Kosslyn Ed., Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc. Hillsdale, NJ, 1992

Luce, Mary Frances, John Payne & James Bettman, Emotional Trade-off Difficulty and Choice, Journal of Marketing Research, 36, 1999

Mather, Mara, Eldar Shafir & Marcia K. Johnson, Misrememberance of Options Past: Source Monitoring and Choice, Psychological Science, 11(2), 2000

Unnava, H. Rao and Deepak Sirdeshmukh, Reducing Competitive Ad Interference, Journal of Marketing Research, Vol. XXXI, August, 403-411, 1994

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Authors

Cathy Yi Chen, UCLA, U.S.A.
Shi Zhang, UCLA, U.S.A.



Volume

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



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