Our preferences change to reflect the choices we make, even three years later

October 3, 2012

You're in a store, trying to choose between similar shirts, one blue and one green. You don't feel strongly about one over the other, but eventually you decide to buy the green one. You leave the store and a market researcher asks you about your purchase and which shirt you prefer. Chances are that you'd say you prefer the green one, the shirt you actually chose. As it turns out, this choice-induced preference isn't limited to shirts. Whether we're choosing between presidential candidates or household objects, research shows that we come to place more value on the options we chose and less value on the options we rejected.

One way of explaining this effect is through the idea of . Making a selection between two options that we feel pretty much the same about creates a sense of dissonance – after all, how can we choose if we don't really prefer one option over the other? Re-evaluating the options after we've made our choice may be a way of resolving this dissonance.

This has been demonstrated in numerous studies, but the studies have only examined preference change shortly after participants make their decision. Existing research doesn't address whether these changes in preference are actually stable over time.

In a new article published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for , researcher Tali Sharot of University College London and her colleagues examine whether choice-induced changes in preference are fleeting or long-lasting.

The researchers asked 39 undergraduate participants to rate the desirability of 80 different vacation destinations, rating how happy they think they would be if they were to vacation at that location. They were then presented with pairs of similar vacation destinations and asked to choose which destination they would prefer. The participants rated the destinations again immediately after making their choices and once more three years later.

To test whether a sense of agency over the decision makes a difference for choice-induced changes in preference, the researchers looked at participants' preferences when the participants made the choices themselves and when a computer instructed the participants' choices.

The results suggest that the act of choosing between two similar options can lead to enduring changes in preference. Participants rated vacation destinations as more desirable both immediately after choosing them and again three years later. This change only occurred, however, if they had made the original choice themselves. The researchers observed no change in ' preferences when the computer instructed their choices.

Sharot and her colleagues argue that fact that this effect is robust and enduring has implications for a diverse array of fields, including economics, marketing, and even interpersonal relationships. As Sharot points out, for example, repeatedly endorsing a particular political party may entrench this for a long period of time.

Explore further: Study finds that consumers prefer fewer options when thinking about the future

Related Stories

Study finds that consumers prefer fewer options when thinking about the future

August 27, 2012
(Phys.org)—Consumers generally prefer having more options when choosing among products but not when making choices involving the distant future, according to a study from Washington University in St. Louis.

Recommended for you

New study rebuts the claim that antidepressants do not work

August 18, 2017
A theory that has gained considerable attention in international media, including Newsweek and the CBS broadcast 60 minutes, suggests that antidepressant drugs such as the SSRIs do not exert any actual antidepressant effect. ...

Should I stay or should I leave? Untangling what goes on when a relationship is being questioned

August 17, 2017
Knowing whether to stay in or leave a romantic relationship is often an agonizing experience and that ambivalence can have negative consequences for health and well-being.

Kids learn moral lessons more effectively from stories with humans than human-like animals

August 17, 2017
A study by researchers at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (OISE) at the University of Toronto found that four to six-year-olds shared more after listening to books with human characters than books with anthropomorphic ...

History of stress increases miscarriage risk, says new review

August 17, 2017
A history of exposure to psychological stress can increase the risk of miscarriage by upto 42 per cent, according to a new review.

Study finds children pay close attention to potentially threatening information, avoid eye contact when anxious

August 17, 2017
We spend a lot of time looking at the eyes of others for social cues – it helps us understand a person's emotions, and make decisions about how to respond to them. We also know that adults avoid eye contact when anxious. ...

Communicating in a foreign language takes emotion out of decision making

August 16, 2017
If you could save the lives of five people by pushing another bystander in front of a train to his death, would you do it? And should it make any difference if that choice is presented in a language you speak, but isn't your ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.