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Journal Article

The Devil You (Don’t) Know: Interpersonal Ambiguity and Inference Making in Competitive Contexts

David A. Norton, Cait Poynor Lamberton and Rebecca Walker Naylor
Journal of Consumer Research
Vol. 40, No. 2 (August 2013), pp. 239-254
Published by: Oxford University Press
DOI: 10.1086/669562
Stable URL:
Page Count: 16

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Topics: Auctions, Human aggression, Ambiguity, Websites, Bidding, Transponders, Selling price, Inference, Prices, Games
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The Devil You (Don’t) Know: Interpersonal Ambiguity and Inference Making in Competitive Contexts
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Past research has shown the robustness of egocentric anchoring or false consensus effects (e.g., Naylor, Lamberton, and Norton; Ross, Greene, and House) primarily in situations where consumers adopt a cooperative or neutral stance toward one another. However, competition among consumers is a ubiquitous part of Western culture. Across five experiments in competitive contexts (either a dictator game or an online auction), interpersonal ambiguity leads to an inference of dissimilarity, rather than similarity. As a result, consumers compete as aggressively against ambiguous others as they do against dissimilar others. This effect occurs regardless of brand quality, seller reputation, or number of other competitors in the auction. A final study demonstrates that aggressiveness may be directed toward the seller rather than other bidders when sellers are ambiguous or dissimilar. This work therefore offers an important boundary condition for the operation of egocentric tendencies, highlighting the pervasive effect of competitive contexts on consumer behavior.

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