Between a rock and a hard place: The failure of the attraction effect among unattractive alternatives

Selin A. Malkoc, William Hedgcock, Steve Hoeffler

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

41 Scopus citations


Many important decisions that consumers face involve choosing between options that are unattractive or undesirable-the proverbial "lesser of two evils." Consumers, who face budget or geographical constraints, for example, end up with mostly undesirable consideration sets; yet a choice is necessary. We examine the role of option set desirability in the context of the well-established attraction effect. In five studies, we show that the attraction effect occurs in desirable domains but is eliminated when all the options are undesirable (Experiments 1-4). We further find that this asymmetric effect is consistent with a shift in decision makers' processing styles. Decision makers show more vigilant processing when making choices among undesirable (vs. desirable) domains (Experiments 3A and 3B), which results in an attenuated attraction effect (Experiment 4). Our results indicate that the attraction effect might not be as robust as generally thought and establishes (un)desirability as an important boundary condition.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)317-329
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of Consumer Psychology
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jul 2013
Externally publishedYes


  • (Un)desirability
  • Attraction effect
  • Context effects
  • Decision making


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