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Choice Construction versus Preference Construction: The Instability of Preferences Learned in Context

On Amir and Jonathan Levav
Journal of Marketing Research
Vol. 45, No. 2 (Apr., 2008), pp. 145-158
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/30164027
Page Count: 14
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Choice Construction versus Preference Construction: The Instability of Preferences Learned in Context
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Abstract

Preference consistency implies that people have learned their willingness to trade off attributes. The authors argue that this is not necessarily the case. Instead, they show that when people learn preferences in context (e.g., through repeated choices made from a trinary choice set that includes an asymmetrically dominated decoy), they learn a context-specific choice heuristic (e.g., they always choose the asymmetrically dominating option), which leads to less consistent preferences across contexts. In contrast, repeated choices from sets containing only two options impel people to learn their subjective attribute weights, yielding preferences that are consistent across contexts. The difference between choice construction and preference construction is of importance to marketing managers because repeat purchase is typically interpreted as a signal of customer preference. The authors show that this "preference" might just be a learned solution to the choice problem and that as soon as the competitive context changes (even in a normatively meaningless way), so will consumers' preferences.

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