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Consuming Now or Later?: The Interactive Effect of Timing and Attribute Alignability

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Decisions are often temporally separated from their outcomes. Using theories of structural alignment and temporal construal, we examined how temporal distance and the associated shift in decision processes moderate susceptibility to context effects. Specifically, in two experiments (one hypothetical, one with real outcomes), we demonstrated that people attend more to nonalignable differences when the outcome of the decision is in the distant future than when it is in the near future. This shift in decision processes was found in preference and choice data, as well as coded written protocols. We further show that this temporal shift cannot be explained by differential involvement with the decision or by the feasibility and desirability of the attributes. Our findings establish temporal distance as an important moderator of structural alignment effects and also extend the implications of temporal construal theory beyond the nature of the attributes to the structural relationships among attributes.

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: 1: The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and 2: Duke University

Publication date: May 1, 2005

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