Tag Archives: Construal Level Theory

Reframing Non-Comparable Choices to Make Them Simpler, More Satisfying

Life’s most baffling decisions are among non-comparable choices: “apples-to-oranges” comparisons.

Eunice Kim

Eunice Kim

University of Toronto’s Eunice Kim Cho collaborated with Uzma Khan of Stanford and Yale’s Ravi Dhar to investigate whether non-comparable choices may be made easier and more satisfying by changing their “level of representation,” or decision context.

Uzma Khan

Uzma Khan

Cho and team drew on Construal Level Theory (CLT) discussed by NYU’s Yaacov Trope, Nira Liberman of Tel Aviv University and Cheryl Wakslak, now of USC, to differentiate decisions construed as concrete, specific, contextualized, and personal from more abstract, distant options based on future time, remote space, social distance, and hypothetical probability.

Ravi Dhar

Ravi Dhar

Trope and team reported that these differing construals can determine people’s predictions, decisions, and behavior.

Yaacov Trope

Yaacov Trope

Kim’s team offered volunteers a gift card and asked half of the participants to choose between comparable choices (different types of chess sets or different types of consumer electronics).

Nira Liberman

Nira Liberman

The remaining subjects chose between non-comparable options (chess set vs. cheese sampler or consumer electronic device vs. event tickets), and all  participants chose between these options for themselves (specific context) or for an acquaintance (abstract context).

Cheryl Wakslak

Cheryl Wakslak

When people chose for themselves, at the more personal, specific construal level, they found it easier to select between more similar choices, the two chess sets, but not the dissimilar choice of chess set vs. cheese platter.

In contrast, when participants chose a gift for a more socially-distant person, an acquaintance, they found it easier to select between dissimilar items.
Kim and team concluded that it’s easier to make dissimilar choices when the options are represented at a higher level of abstraction to enable “big picture thinking.”

Marketers use this principle to position dissimilar choices more abstractly, like “level of enjoyment” rather than focusing on specific specific product features, to help consumers make decisions more quickly.

Decision-making ease is crucial because it is associated with greater satisfaction with the decision.
When taking a decision is complex and stressful, many people doubt the decision and feel less content.

Jens Forster

Jens Forster

Liberman and Jens Forster, now of University of Amsterdam, demonstrated that complex, non-comparable, or confusing choices are associated with lower decision satisfaction and greater likelihood of choosing the previously rejected option in a subsequent decision.

Individuals can consider more abstract, “big-picture” criteria when deciding between differing options, such as equal expenditures on a a material possession or an experience, to increase ease and speed of decision-making.

The next post considers which type of purchase – material or experiential – most people find more satisfying.

-*How do you make decisions when the choices are not directly comparable?

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Most Effective “Calls to Action” Are Aligned to Audience “Construal Level”, Psychological Distance”

Nir Halevy

Nir Halevy

Leaders can elicit stronger commitment and willingness to follow requested actions when they deliver messages tailored to the audience’s “psychological distance” from them, according to Stanford’s Nir Halevy and Yair Berson of Bar-Ilan University.

Yaacov Trope

Yaacov Trope

Construal level theory” (CLT), developed by NYU’s Yaacov Trop and Nira Liberman of Tel Aviv University, posits that the “psychological distance” is related to differences in organizational hierarchy position as well as spatial and temporal distance.

Nira Liberman

Nira Liberman

Halevy and Berson found that greater psychological distance requires greater message abstractness, often characterized as “high level,” “visionary,” and “big picture” communications.

In contrast, communications with people who work closely with each other are more influential when messages are concrete and specific.

Yair Berson

Yair Berson

Halevy and Berson found that “construal fit” is associated with greater job satisfaction, commitment, and social bonding.

These findings add to other “fit” theories, pioneered by Paul Hersey and Ken Blanchard’s Situational Leadership concepts, and suggest leadership behaviors are most effective when tailored to specific workplace situations,

Paul Hersey

Paul Hersey

Practical implications include:

  • Providing more specific messages to people working in different locations and time zones.
  • Pairing individuals at closer organizational levels for workplace mentoring rather than “executive shadowing” experiences.
Ken Blanchard

Ken Blanchard

*How do you tailor leadership communications based on the audience’s “psychological distance” and “construal level?”

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Paradoxical Bias against Innovative Ideas in the Workplace

Jennifer Mueller

Jennifer Mueller

Managers’ implicit attitudes and cognitive “mindset” during proposal presentations can bias organizational decision-makers against innovative solutions without their awareness, according to University of San Diego’s Jennifer Mueller with Shimul Melwani of University of North Carolina and Cornell University’s Jack Goncalo.

Shimul Melwani

Shimul Melwani

Mueller and team pointed out a paradox:  Most managers say they want innovative solutions to workplace issues from team members, yet often reject these creative ideas to reduce risk and uncertainty.

The team asked volunteers to rate a running shoe equipped with nanotechnology that improved fit and reduced potential to develop blisters.

Jack Goncalo

Jack Goncalo

They “primed” some participants toward increased uncertainty in this task by telling them that there were many potential answers to a problem.
In contrast, they cued another group with reduced uncertainty by instructing them that a problem required a single solution.

When volunteers who said they favored creative ideas experienced uncertainty, they preferred concepts of practicality on an implicit word association test, and associated “creativity” with negative concepts including “vomit,” “poison” and “agony.”

Uncertain participants also rated the shoe as significantly less creative than those in the more structured condition, suggesting that were less able to recognize a creative idea and held an unconscious “negative bias against creativity.”

Cheryl Wakslak

Cheryl Wakslak

In more recent work, Mueller collaborated with University of Southern California’s Cheryl Wakslak and Viswanathan Krishnan with University of California, San Diego to expand the idea assessment scenario with two ideas that were independently rated as “creative,” and two ideas judged “not creative.”

Vish Krishnan

Vish Krishnan

Mueller, Wakslak and Krishnan cued some participants to consider “why” in evaluating creative ideas, to evoke broad, abstract thinking, and “high-level construal.
They instructed other volunteers to think about “how” creative idea works, to stimulate narrow focus on practical details and logistics, and “low-level construal.”

Although participants in both groups rated two non-creative ideas similarly, those who adopted a “high-level construal” or a “why” mindset recognized creative ideas more often than those using the “how” mindset.

As an idea’s degree of creativity increases, uncertainty also increases about its feasibility, acceptability, and practicality.
This increased risk may reduce evaluators’ willingness to accept and advocate for an innovative idea, even when objective evidence is presented to validate a creative idea.

To mitigate the paradoxical rejection of creative ideas, organizational leaders can ask team members to consider “why” when creative evaluating proposals to enable “big picture” thinking and a broader construal level.

-*How do you encourage innovative solutions to work challenges?

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