Spreading of Alternatives Without a Perception of Choice

40 Pages Posted: 27 Mar 2019 Last revised: 24 May 2019

See all articles by Kurt Munz

Kurt Munz

New York University (NYU), Leonard N. Stern School of Business, Department of Marketing

Vicki Morwitz

New York University (NYU) - Department of Marketing

Date Written: February 25, 2019

Abstract

Choosing something improves a person’s attitude toward it, a classic example of behavior affecting attitudes. Three studies re-examine the causal role of behavior in this “post-choice spreading of alternatives” phenomenon, demonstrating that neither the behavior of choosing nor the self-perception of having made a choice is required for it to occur. A rationalization process similar to the one that follows from actively choosing can occur whenever someone merely accepts an outcome as a true state of affairs. When a person accepts an externally assigned outcome, the negative features of that outcome no longer seem as important, allowing attitudes to improve. People normally accept outcomes they have personally chosen, but they may also accept outcomes they neither chose nor could reject. Thus, we question the causal role of behavior in a classic phenomenon. This finding contradicts explanations for post-choice spreading based on self-perception theory, where people learn their attitudes from their own voluntary behaviors. Though future work would be needed to confirm, we also discuss potential implications for cognitive dissonance theory, suggesting that agency over choice may not be prerequisite for dissonance, as previously believed. Relaxing this prerequisite expands the scope of phenomena to which dissonance theory could potentially apply.

Keywords: cognitive dissonance, self-perception, spreading of alternatives, decision making, choice, preferences, attitudes

JEL Classification: D91

Suggested Citation

Munz, Kurt and Morwitz, Vicki, Spreading of Alternatives Without a Perception of Choice (February 25, 2019). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3341564 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3341564

Kurt Munz (Contact Author)

New York University (NYU), Leonard N. Stern School of Business, Department of Marketing ( email )

Henry Kaufman Ctr
44 W 4 St.
New York, NY
United States

Vicki Morwitz

New York University (NYU) - Department of Marketing ( email )

Henry Kaufman Ctr
44 W 4 St.
New York, NY
United States

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