Social Information Avoidance: When, Why, and How it is Costly in Goal Pursuit

Social Information Avoidance: When, Why, and How it is Costly in Goal Pursuit

Journal of Marketing Research (forthcoming).
2018

Consumers nowadays have easy and rich access to information about social others who are pursuing goals similar to their own (e.g., through a Fitbit device, the Endomondo mobile app, stickK.com). This research focuses on objective social information during goal striving (e.g., performance data and progress information of others) and shows that this information may not always be welcome. The author finds that when people are in the middle of a goal pursuit journey (vs. when they have just begun or are about to complete their goal), to circumvent potentially negative comparisons, they avoid information about social referents who are relevant (pursuing the same goal), proximal (in the same stage of goal pursuit), and superior. Head turn frequency, eye movements, and consumers’ direct choices in the lab and in the field are used to document a U-shaped pattern of information avoidance behavior, which paradoxically contributes to the phenomenon whereby goal pursuers become “stuck in the middle” of their pursuits. These findings connect the information avoidance literature with the psychophysics of goal pursuit and shed light on the questions of when and why people may be undermining their goal striving by avoiding relevant, motivating social information.