Hoping for the Worst? A Paradoxical Preference for Bad News
Barasz, Kate and Serena F. Hagerty (Forthcoming), "Hoping for the Worst? A Paradoxical Preference for Bad News," Journal of Consumer Research.
Nine studies investigate when and why people may paradoxically prefer bad news—e.g., hoping for an objectively worse injury or a higher-risk diagnosis over explicitly better alternatives. Using a combination of field surveys and randomized experiments, the research demonstrates that people may hope for relatively worse (versus better) news in an effort to preemptively avoid subjectively difficult decisions (Studies 1–2). This is because when worse news avoids a choice (Study 3A)—e.g., by “forcing one’s hand” or creating one dominant option that circumvents a fraught decision (Study 3B)—it can relieve the decision-maker’s experience of personal responsibility (Study 3C). However, because not all decisions warrant avoidance, not all decisions will elicit a preference for worse news; fewer people hope for worse news when facing subjectively easier (versus harder) choices (Studies 4A–B). Finally, this preference for worse news is not without consequence and may create perverse incentives for decision-makers, such as the tendency to forgo opportunities for improvement (Studies 5A–B). The work contributes to the literature on decision avoidance and elucidates another strategy people use to circumvent difficult decisions: a propensity to hope for the worst.
Kim, Tami, Kate Barasz, and Leslie K. John (2021), "Consumer Disclosure," Consumer Psychology Review.
Inequality in Socially Permissible Consumption
Hagerty, Serena and Kate Barasz (2020), "Inequality in Socially Permissible Consumption," Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 117 (25), 14084–14093.
Lower-income individuals are frequently criticized for their consumption decisions; this research examines why. Eleven preregistered studies document systematic differences in permissible consumption—interpersonal judgments about what is acceptable (or not) for others to consume—such that lower-income individuals’ decisions are subject to more negative and restrictive evaluations. Indeed, the same consumption decisions may be deemed less permissible for a lower-income individual than for an individual with higher or unknown income (studies 1A and 1B), even when purchased with windfall funds. This gap persists among participants from a large, nationally representative sample (study 2) and when testing a broad array of “everyday” consumption items (study 3). Additional studies investigate why: The same items are often perceived as less necessary for lower- (versus higher-) income individuals (studies 4 and 5). Combining both permissibility and perceived necessity, additional studies (studies 6 and 7) demonstrate a causal link between the two constructs: A purchase decision will be deemed permissible (or not) to the extent that it is perceived as necessary (or not). However, because—for lower-income individuals—fewer items are perceived as necessary, fewer are therefore socially permissible to consume. This finding not only exposes a fraught double standard, but also portends consequential behavioral implications: People prefer to allocate strictly “necessary” items to lower-income recipients (study 8), even if such items are objectively and subjectively less valuable (studies 9A and 9B), which may result in an imbalanced and inefficient provision of resources to the poor.
I Know Why You Voted for Trump: (Over)inferring Motives Based on Choice
Barasz, Kate, Tami Kim, and Ioannis Evangelidis (2019), "I Know Why You Voted for Trump: (Over)inferring Motives Based on Choice," Cognition, 188 (July), 85–97.
People often speculate about why others make the choices they do. This paper investigates how such inferences are formed as a function of what is chosen. Specifically, when observers encounter someone else’s choice (e.g., of political candidate), they use the chosen option’s attribute values (e.g., a candidate’s specific stance on a policy issue) to infer the importance of that attribute (e.g., the policy issue) to the decision-maker. Consequently, when a chosen option has an attribute whose value is extreme (e.g., an extreme policy stance), observers infer—sometimes incorrectly—that this attribute disproportionately motivated the decision-maker’s choice. Seven studies demonstrate how observers use an attribute’s value to infer its weight—the value-weight heuristic—and identify the role of perceived diagnosticity: more extreme attribute values give observers the subjective sense that they know more about a decision-maker’s preferences, and in turn, increase the attribute’s perceived importance. The paper explores how this heuristic can produce erroneous inferences and influence broader beliefs about decision-makers.
Why Am I Seeing This Ad? The Effect of Ad Transparency on Ad Effectiveness
Kim, Tami, Kate Barasz, and Leslie K. John (2019), "Why Am I Seeing This Ad? The Effect of Ad Transparency on Ad Effectiveness," Journal of Consumer Research, 45 (5), 906–932.
Given the increasingly specific ways marketers can target ads, many consumers and regulators are demanding ad transparency: disclosure of how consumers’ personal information was used to generate ads. We investigate how and why ad transparency impacts ad effectiveness. Drawing on literature about offline norms of information-sharing, we posit that ad transparency backfires when it exposes marketing practices that violate norms about “information flows”—consumers’ beliefs about how their information ought to move between parties. Study 1 inductively shows that consumers deem information flows acceptable (or not) based on whether their personal information was: 1) obtained within versus outside of the website on which the ad appears, and 2) stated by the consumer versus inferred by the firm (the latter of each pair being less acceptable). Studies 2 and 3 show that revealing unacceptable information flows reduces ad effectiveness, which is driven by increasing consumers’ relative concern for their privacy over desire for the personalization that such targeting affords. Study 4 shows the moderating role of platform trust: when consumers trust a platform, revealing acceptable information flows increases ad effectiveness. Studies 5a and 5b, conducted in the field with a loyalty program website (i.e., a trusted platform), demonstrate this benefit of transparency.
Unhealthy Consumerism: The Challenge of Trading Off Price and Quality in Health Care
Barasz, Kate and Peter A. Ubel (2018), "Unhealthy Consumerism: The Challenge of Trading Off Price and Quality in Health Care," Behavioural Public Policy, 2 (1), 41–55.
Over the last decade, healthcare in many parts of the world has shifted toward a more patient-centric, consumeristic model, marked by an emphasis on choice and a proliferation of typical consumer-facing information (e.g., price and quality data). However, while the “patients as consumers” perspective is an apt one, there are crucial differences between healthcare and typical consumer domains that warrant special consideration by policymakers and researchers alike. This article discusses some of these differences and explores the challenges that consumers (a.k.a. patients) face when making tradeoffs between price and quality.
Barasz, Kate, Leslie K. John, Elizabeth A. Keenan, and Michael I. Norton (2017), "Pseudo-Set Framing," Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 146 (10), 1460–1477.
Pseudo-set framing—arbitrarily grouping items or tasks together as part of an apparent “set”—motivates people to reach perceived completion points. Pseudo-set framing changes gambling choices (Study 1), effort (Studies 2 and 3), giving behavior (Field Data and Study 4), and purchase decisions (Study 5). These effects persist in the absence of any reward, when a cost must be incurred, and after participants are explicitly informed of the arbitrariness of the set. Drawing on Gestalt psychology, we develop a conceptual account that predicts what will—and will not—act as a pseudo-set, and defines the psychological process through which these pseudo-sets affect behavior: over and above typical reference points, pseudo-set framing alters perceptions of (in)completeness, making intermediate progress seem less complete. In turn, these feelings of incompleteness motivate people to persist until the pseudo-set has been fulfilled.
The Role of (Dis)similarity in (Mis)predicting Others' Preferences
Barasz, Kate, Tami Kim, and Leslie K. John (2016), "The Role of (Dis)similarity in (Mis)predicting Others' Preferences," Journal of Marketing Research, 53 (August), 597–607.
Consumers readily indicate liking options that appear dissimilar—for example, enjoying both rustic lake vacations and chic city vacations, or liking both scholarly documentary films and action-packed thrillers. However, when predicting other consumers’ tastes for the same items, people believe that a preference for one precludes enjoyment of the dissimilar other. Five studies show that people sensibly expect others to like similar products, but erroneously expect others to dislike dissimilar ones (Studies 1 and 2). While people readily select dissimilar items for themselves (particularly if the dissimilar item is of higher quality than a similar one), they fail to predict this choice for others (Studies 3 and 4)—even when monetary rewards are at stake (Study 3). The tendency to infer dislike from dissimilarity is driven by a belief that others have a narrow and homogeneous range of preferences (Study 5).
Hiding Personal Information Reveals the Worst
John, Leslie K., Kate Barasz, and Michael I. Norton (2016), "Hiding Personal Information Reveals the Worst," Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 113 (4), 954–959.
Seven experiments explore people’s decisions to share or withhold personal information, and the wisdom of such decisions. When people choose not to reveal information—to be “hiders”—they are judged negatively by others (experiment 1). These negative judgments emerge when hiding is volitional (experiments 2A and 2B) and are driven by decreases in trustworthiness engendered by decisions to hide (experiments 3A and 3B). Moreover, hiders do not intuit these negative consequences: given the choice to withhold or reveal unsavory information, people often choose to withhold, but observers rate those who reveal even questionable behavior more positively (experiments 4A and 4B). The negative impact of hiding holds whether opting not to disclose unflattering (drug use, poor grades, and sexually transmitted diseases) or flattering (blood donations) information, and across decisions ranging from whom to date to whom to hire. When faced with decisions about disclosure, decision-makers should be aware not just of the risk of revealing, but of what hiding reveals.