You Must Have a Preference: The Impact of No-Preference Communication on Joint Decision Making
In many joint consumption decisions, such as choosing a restaurant or a movie to watch together, one party often communicates to the other that they do not have a particular preference among the options (e.g., “I have no preference,” “I’m fine with any option”). Despite their prevalence, little is known about how communications of no preference impact joint decision making and the consumption experience. Do consumers take the other party's indifference at face value? Does the decision become easier to make without one party's preference to incorporate? How will such communications ultimately impact consumption and social utility? In a series of six studies using both hypothetical and real joint consumption decisions, the authors find that recipients of no-preference communication infer that the co-consumer (i.e., the person communicating having no preferences) actually does have preferences but is not disclosing them. These perceptions of undisclosed preferences increase the decision makers’ decision difficulty and cause them to like the co-consumer less. Further, the authors find that the decision maker intuits that the co-consumer's (undisclosed) preferences are probably dissimilar to their own, which leads them to choose an option they like less and ultimately decreases their enjoyment. Interestingly, these negative effects are not anticipated by the party who communicates having no preference.