On My Own: The Aversion to Being Observed during the Preference-Construction Stage


Previous research in consumer behavior and decision-making has explored many important aspects of social observation. However, the effect of social observation during the specific time wherein consumers construct their preferences remains relatively understudied. The present work seeks to fill this knowledge gap and adds to this literature by studying how consumers react to being observed during the preference-construction stage (i.e., prior to reaching their decision). While existing research on social observation focuses on accountability and self-presentation concerns, the present study uncovers an additional unique concern. Specifically, eight studies (three additional studies reported in the web appendixweb appendix) find that being observed prior to reaching the decision threatens consumers’ sense of autonomy in making the decision, resulting in an aversion to being observed. Furthermore, we find that such threats lead consumers to terminate their decision by avoiding purchase or by choosing default options. Given the extent to which consumers are observed in the marketplace by other individuals and by online platforms, and given the rise in consumers’ privacy concerns associated with such practices, understanding consumer reactions to being observed in the pre-decisional stage is an important topic with practical implications.