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Hoping for the Worst? A Paradoxical Preference for Bad News

Kate Barasz, Serena F Hagerty, Margaret C Campbell and Simona Botti

Journal of Consumer Research, 2021, vol. 48, issue 2, 270-288

Abstract: Nine studies investigate when and why people may paradoxically prefer bad news—for example, hoping for an objectively worse injury or a higher-risk diagnosis over explicitly better alternatives. Using a combination of field surveys and randomized experiments, the research demonstrates that people may hope for relatively worse (vs. better) news in an effort to preemptively avoid subjectively difficult decisions (studies 1 and 2). This is because when worse news avoids a choice (study 3A)—for example, by “forcing one’s hand” or creating one dominant option that circumvents a fraught decision (study 3B)—it can relieve the decision-maker’s experience of personal responsibility (study 3C). However, because not all decisions warrant avoidance, not all decisions will elicit a preference for worse news; fewer people hope for worse news when facing subjectively easier (vs. harder) choices (studies 4A and B). Finally, this preference for worse news is not without consequence and may create perverse incentives for decision-makers, such as the tendency to forgo opportunities for improvement (studies 5A and B). The work contributes to the literature on decision avoidance and elucidates another strategy people use to circumvent difficult decisions: a propensity to hope for the worst.

Keywords: decision avoidance; difficult decisions; judgment and decision making; medical decision making (search for similar items in EconPapers)
Date: 2021
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