Choosing an Inferior Alternative

19 Pages Posted: 2 Jun 2006

See all articles by J. Edward Russo

J. Edward Russo

Cornell University - Samuel Curtis Johnson Graduate School of Management

Kurt A. Carlson

Mason School of Business, William and Mary; Georgetown University - Department of Marketing

Meg Meloy

Pennsylvania State University - Smeal College of Business

Abstract

We show how decision makers can be induced to choose a personally inferior alternative, a strong violation of rational decision making. The binary choice process is traced to reveal the progress of the manipulation. First, the inferior alternative is installed as the leading option by starting with information that supports it. Then the decision maker uses the natural process of distorting new information to support whichever alternative is leading to overcome the inherent advantages of the superior alternative. The end result is a majority choice of the self-identified inferior alternative. Self-reported awareness reveals no relation between awareness and distortion to support the inferior alternative, suggesting that such manipulated preference violations are unlikely to be detected and self-corrected. In accord with the lack of awareness, final confidence is just as high when the inferior alternative is chosen as when the superior one is. The discussion considers how to prevent an adversary from manipulating one's decisions using this technique.

Suggested Citation

Russo, J. Edward and Carlson, Kurt A. and Meloy, Meg, Choosing an Inferior Alternative. Psychological Science, Forthcoming, Johnson School Research Paper Series No. 08-06, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=905922

J. Edward Russo (Contact Author)

Cornell University - Samuel Curtis Johnson Graduate School of Management ( email )

Ithaca, NY 14853
United States

Kurt A. Carlson

Mason School of Business, William and Mary ( email )

P.O. Box 8795
Williamsburg, VA 23187-8795
United States

Georgetown University - Department of Marketing ( email )

Washington, DC 20057
United States

Meg Meloy

Pennsylvania State University - Smeal College of Business ( email )

University Park, PA 16802
United States

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