The Role of Explanations and Need for Uniqueness in Consumer Decision Making: Unconventional Choices Based on Reasons

The Role of Explanations and Need for Uniqueness in Consumer Decision Making: Unconventional Choices Based on Reasons

By Itamar Simonson, Stephen Nowlis
2000Working Paper No. 1610

This research investigates the interaction effect of a very common task, explaining decisions, and an individual difference, need for uniqueness (NFU), on buyer decision-making. We propose that explaining (or providing reasons for) decisions shifts the focus from the choice options to the choice of reasons. Furthermore, buyers who explain their decisions and have high NFU tend to select unconventional reasons and are, consequently, more likely to make unconventional choices. These predictions were supported in a series of studies involving choices between conventional and less-conventional options, such as whether to switch to a brand on "sale", whether to select a compromise option, and loss aversion. The findings also indicate that the effects of providing reasons are not due to attempts to act rationally or to concerns about being evaluated. Three boundary conditions on the generalization that high NFU consumers who provide reasons tend to make unconventional choices were examined, all involving forces that promote conformity over uniqueness. They include evaluation by others, explicit information about the preferences of others, and negative feedback on previous decision performance. We discuss the implications of this research with respect to the role of explanations, NFU, and accountability in buyer decision-making.