When we make decisions about what to buy, we often do so with another person. Domestic partners make joint purchasing decisions about homes, appliances, cars, and vacations. Pairs of college students often decide together what apartment to rent. Two investment bankers might select stocks together. And when two friends plan a night out, they might negotiate what restaurant to visit and even which appetizers to share.
Whether such pairs agree on an extreme choice or a compromise option in such purchasing negotiations likely will depend on the gender of the two people involved, Boston College professor Hristina Nikolova and University of Pittsburgh professor Cait Lamberton found in a new study published in the Journal of Consumer Research.
Compromises and extreme choices
Consumer researchers have long known that individual consumers tend to avoid extreme options when making purchasing decisions, a phenomenon known as the compromise effect. For example, if someone shopping for a car has a choice among a low-priced base model with no extras, a high-priced model with all the extras, or a midpriced model with some extras, most individuals will choose the middle option. Retailers sometimes try to drive up consumers’ spending by adding a more expensive choice to frame another option as moderate.
What about when pairs of consumers are negotiating what to buy with one another? Nikolova and Lamberton conducted four experiments in which they paired college students and had them make hypothetical joint purchasing decisions about items such as printers, grills, lottery prizes, and stocks. They found that the compromise effect held up among pairs of women and male-female pairs. However, when pairs of men were making a decision, they usually instead chose one of the extreme options rather than the compromise choice.
“Say two men are choosing a car and the cars they are considering differ on safety and fuel efficiency,” Nikolova explained to ScienceDaily. “They will either go for the safest car or the one that offers them the most fuel efficiency, but they won’t choose an option that offers a little of both.” The mixed-gender and female-female pairs, by contrast, tended to choose the middle option.
Why pairs of men prefer extremes
Why might men veer away from the compromise option when negotiating with other men? The researchers cited past work showing that when men are making decisions with other men, they feel a need to prove their masculinity that they do not feel when they are making decisions on their own or with women. Both men in a pair “tend to push away from the compromise option” because it is “consistent with female norms,” according to Nikolova. “On the other hand, extremism is a more masculine trait, so that’s why both male partners tend to prefer an extreme option when making decisions together.”
“The compromise effect basically emerges in any pair when there is a woman,” says Nikolova. “In contrast to men, women act the same together as they would alone because they don’t need to prove anything in front of other women.”
Further research is needed to examine this effect in different negotiation contexts. When it comes to joint purchasing decisions, though, the results suggest that both men and women need to be aware of these tendencies, “rather than defaulting to the moderate or extreme position that feels most comfortable to them, given their negotiating partners,” Lamberton told Negotiation Briefings.
Resource: “Men and the Middle: Gender Differences in Dyadic Compromise Effects,” by Hristina Nikolova and Cait Lamberton, Journal of Consumer Research, 2016.