What’s behind consumers’ preference for the middle ground?

Understand how decisions are driven by a habitual preference for moderation

The middle way has long been considered the right way among founding philosophers and Eastern religions. Aristotle places moderation as the means to a virtuous life. Plato said, “A moderate person is a person of character and wisdom. Buddhism, Taoism and Confucianism tout the moral utility of a middle way on extremism.

Moderation is also a message that runs through our daily decision-making. What and how much we should eat and drink. How we invest for retirement: Diversification and asset allocation are safeguards to avoid the risks of taking extreme positions (aggressive or conservative). The decision to save for retirement is itself an exercise in moderating spending today for the benefit of our future. Budgeting is an exercise in moderating spending within our means.

Given the ubiquity of moderation as a potential tool in decision making, Aimee Drolet of UCLA Anderson, Mary Frances Luce and Benjamin Rossi of Duke, Li Jiang of George Washington University and Reid Hastie of the University of Chicago set out to develop a way to measure an individual’s tendency to seek balance and compromise when faced with a choice. The researchers recognize that there are scales of consumer preferences that touch on the concept of moderation, but they propose in an article published in the Consumer Research Journal that the scale they developed progresses by specifically delving into moderation as a behavioral trait in decision-making.

Their moderation preference scale suggests that anyone in the business of persuasion—marketers, policymakers, political consultants—can benefit from tailoring messages to consumers with high GFP scores. Across seven experiments, researchers found that high PFM participants were more likely to choose intermediate options than low PFM participants in a variety of scenarios.

Scaling preference for moderation

The researchers first had to build the ladder itself. They started with a list of 102 proverbs and aphorisms focused on the concept of moderation. This initial list included pro-moderation sayings such as “Avoid excess. Let moderation be your guide” (Cicero) and “Too much of a good thing is a bad thing” (Shakespeare) – and moderation as suboptimal sayings such as “A moderately good thing is not as good than it should be” (Thomas Paine) and “The road to excess leads to the palace of wisdom” (William Blake).

After a series of tests, the researchers ultimately zeroed in on eight sayings that they determined were best suited to measure an individual’s preference for moderation as a “primary goal.”

They then asked more than 350 undergraduate students to analyze each saying and rate on a scale of 1 (strongly disagree) to 7 (strongly agree) how much they agreed with these eight statements. The average ratings are in the table below.

Two additional tests that included 490 other participants further confirmed that these eight sayings were valid ways of measuring an individual’s propensity to rely on moderation as a guiding habit.

Putting PFM to the test

The team then investigated whether their PFM scale was effective in predicting consumer behavior. They conducted a series of experiments that measured the likelihood that participants with high GFP scores (upper quartile) would choose an intermediate option on a variety of tasks, compared to choices made by participants with a lower GFP score. in the quartile.

PFM’s high crowd was consistently more inclined to be centrist, seeking a middle-of-the-road approach more often than others.

One experiment included the highlight/balance concept established in previous consumer choice research. The heart of this concept studies how consumers associate related choices. For example, if you choose the most expensive entree on the menu, is your entree also expensive (highlighted) or do you choose to balance it out by choosing a less expensive entree?

For the PFM research, participants were told to imagine that they often attended baseball games where they sometimes sat in the expensive section ($65 per seat) with the big sight lines and sometimes they sat in the expensive section ($65 per seat) with the big sight lines and sometimes they sat Were sitting in the cheap ($22) seats with just an average view. They were then asked to choose which beer they would drink: an expensive $6 import or the $3 domestic beer.

Participants who were in the highest quartile for GFP were indeed more likely to balance their spending by buying the cheap beer when they had splurged on the expensive seats, and opting for the expensive beer when they splurged on the expensive seats. they sat in the cheapest seats. More than 4 in 10 in the top PFM group opted for balancing, compared to 1 in 3 in the bottom PFM quartile.

Another experiment focused on personal finance decisions. Spending and saving decisions are not simply consecutive. They are often behaviorally treacherous because most of us struggle with delayed gratification, which is central to avoiding overspending and successfully saving for the future (retirement).

More than 225 participants answered a quiz on financial health. Again, those who scored high in PFM were more likely to practice moderation on certain key financial goals.

  • More than half of PFM participants in the highest quartile said they save regularly for long-term financial goals, compared to 36% of PFM participants in the lowest quartile.
  • Nearly three-quarters of members of the high PFM group said they compared at least three choices when considering a major purchase, compared to 58% of the low-quartile PFM crowd.
  • About 6 in 10 people in the high-level PFM group said they avoided impulse buying and never used shopping as a form of leisure. Less than 3 in 10 of the bottom quartile GFP group said they avoided impulse buying and retail therapy.

Test PFM in the real world

The researchers also studied real online consumer reviews from 80 participants. They found that people with high levels of PFM are more likely to post reviews of products online that offer a balanced take (for example, they were more likely to mention both pros and cons).

And researchers used the 2018 midterm elections to explore another form of moderation: split voting. On the day before and on Election Day 2018, using Amazon Mechanical Turk, they recruited 290 adults, who resided in one of 11 states, who explicitly state the choice to vote by single ticket or split ticket. Two-thirds of the top-quartile GFP group said they voted for a split vote, compared to 40% for the bottom-quartile GFP group.

“PFM is a unique predictor of decision-making behavior. Having demonstrated the usefulness of the principle and provided an effective measurement tool, we look forward to further applications in other areas of daily life, such as physical and mental health,” the researchers conclude.

About Alexander Estrada

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