Studies on Rejection v. Choice Decisions: Implications for Mediators?

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A seat for decision-making

By: Donald L. Swanson

Making an affirmative choice among alternatives is one way to make a decision. Rejecting an alternative is another way.

Research Results

Research shows that these two differing ways of making decisions often produce differing results. That’s because people “adopt different selection criteria” and “allocate different weights and choices” in these two ways of making decisions. [Fn. 1]

Here are examples of what studies show about differences between rejection and choice decisions:

  • when paring down a list of job applicants for job interviews, the pared-down list is significantly smaller when applicants are selected to the list (a choice decision) than when applicants are eliminated from the list (a rejection decision);
  • people focus on positive attributes for choice decisions and on negative attributes for rejection decisions—e.g., apartment seekers focus on proximity to amenities when choosing an apartment but on price when rejecting an apartment;
  • information recall after receiving negatively framed information is higher than recall after receiving positively framed information;
  • people who tend to reply “yes” to “yes/no” questions are more impulsive and emotional and uninhibited than people with an overall disagreement tendency, who are more reflective and analytical and more likely to deliberate; and
  • people use rejection for questions requiring conscious deliberation and use choice for questions that focus on feelings.

Recent Study

A recent study [Fn. 2] found that, (i) deliberative processing has a greater association with rejection decisions than with choice decisions, and (ii) “people are more likely to rely on deliberative processing in rejection (vs. choice)” decisions.

The study finds, for example:

  • “people make more rational and objectively superior decisions in rejection” than in choice decisions;
  • changing a decision from choice to rejection enhances “deliberative processing”; and
  • rejection decisions “become similar to choice decisions” when people are “cognitively depleted” or “encouraged to rely on their feelings.”

A practical application the study identifies in a consumer context is this:

–Web site choices, “such as opting-in (choosing) or hiding (rejecting) buttons,” can impact consumer preferences.

Implications identified in the study include these:

“people could benefit from reformulating their decisions into rejection tasks when they want to behave more rationally”; and

when taking a difficult test, for example, the test taker should first consider alternatives that should be filtered out, instead of focusing on which option to choose.

Implications for Mediators?

Do the findings of such studies have implications for mediators?

Should mediators try to frame issues as rejection or choice questions, based on the findings of such studies?
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Footnote 1: All information and quotes in this article are from a study by Tatiana Sokolova and Aradhna Krishna, titled “Take It or Leave It: How Choosing versus Rejecting Alternatives Affects Information Processing,” and published at Journal of Consumer Research 43(4) (August 2016).  At the time of publication, Tatiana Sokolova was a postdoctoral scholar at Prof. Krishna’s Sensory Marketing Lab at the University of Michigan, and Aradhna Krishna was the Dwight F. Benton Professor of Marketing at the Ross School of Business, University of Michigan.

Footnote 2:  Id.

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