Multi-Stage Decision Processes: The Impact of Attribute-Order on How Consumers Mentally Represent Their Choice
50 Pages Posted: 17 Nov 2018
Date Written: October 25, 2018
With the ever-increasing number of options from which consumers can choose, many decisions are done in stages. Whether using decision tools to sort, screen, and eliminate options, or intuitively trying to reduce the complexity of a choice, consumers often reach a decision by making sequential, attribute-level choices. The current paper explores how the order in which attribute-level choices are made in such multi-stage decisions affects how consumers mentally represent and categorize their chosen option. The authors find that attribute choices made in the initial stage play a dominant role in how the ultimately chosen option is mentally represented, while later attribute choices serve only to update and refine the representation of that option. Across thirteen studies (six of which are reported in the supplemental online materials), the authors find that merely changing the order of attribute choices in multi-stage decision processes alters how consumers (i) describe the chosen option, (ii) perceive its similarity to other available options, (iii) categorize it, (iv) intend to use it, and (v) replace it (if necessary). Thus, while the extant decision-making literature has mainly explored how mental representations and categorization impact choice, the current paper demonstrates the reverse: the choice process itself can impact mental representations.
Keywords: Multi-stage Decisions, Mental Representations, Categorization, Decision Trees, Phased Decisions, Replacement Choices
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