Choosing an inferior alternative

J. Edward Russo, Kurt A. Carlson, Margaret G. Meloy

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Abstract

We show how decision makers can be induced to choose a personally inferior alternative, a strong violation of rational decision making. First, the inferior alternative is installed as the leading option by starting with information that supports this alternative. Then, the decision maker uses the natural process of distorting new information to support whichever alternative is leading. This leader-supporting distortion overcomes the inherent advantages of the superior alternative. The end result is a tendency to choose the self-identified inferior alternative. We trace the choice process to reveal the amount of distortion and its influence on preference. Self-reported awareness of distortion to support the inferior alternative is not related to the amount of distortion. The absence of valid awareness suggests that the manipulation that produces this preference violation is unlikely to be detected and that the distortion is unlikely to be corrected by the decision maker. As expected, given 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.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)899-904
Number of pages6
JournalPsychological Science
Volume17
Issue number10
DOIs
StatePublished - Oct 1 2006

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All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Psychology(all)

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