Need for Closure Drives Decision Sidestepping

May 15, 2017

Assistant Professor of Marketing Ashley Otto doesn't like making decisions. She's not alone. Whether it's picking where to eat for dinner or choosing a gift for a loved one, making decisions can be an aversive experience. So, how do people make decisions when they don't like to make decisions?

The decision-averse engage in decision sidestepping to streamline the decision-making process. According to Otto's recent research, they can go with a default option (something given), the status quo (the norm with others), a previous decision (making the same decision again) or choice delegation (deferring to an expert's recommendation).

"What's really cool about this project is that up until this time, these strategies were all looked at in isolation," Otto said. "So no one said, 'Hey, the default bias, the status quo bias, repeat decision making and choice delegation… can all be really similar. All these different choice options are similar in that they allow people to sidestep decisions."

The article, "Decision Sidestepping: How the Motivation for Closure Prompts Individuals to Bypass Decision Making," was published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology in 2016. Otto's co-authors include Joshua Clarkson and Frank Kardes of the University of Cincinnati.

"We find that decision sidestepping is most useful for people who don't like to make decisions," she said. "People who are 'averse to decision making' are people who are motivated to achieve cognitive closure. So people who want firm answers, people who hate ambiguity, people who hate openness, these are the people who hate to make decisions. These are the people who engage in sidestepping."

For example, in one of the five experiments conducted for the project, the researchers offered participants either a pre-selected piece of candy, or the participants could select candy from a variety bag. People who desired closure were more likely to go with the default option than choose a piece of candy from the variety bag in an effort to streamline the decision-making process—even if their favorite candy was in the variety bag.

"There are real people out there who are truly averse to having to make decisions," Otto, who started working at Baylor in fall 2016, said. "They rely on these different sidestepping strategies because it streamlines the decision-making process for them."

According to the article, approximately 40 percent of participants have a high need for closure.

"I have a high need for closure, and I don't necessarily like to make decisions. I fall victim to my own research," she joked. "At the time, I was studying the need for closure construct (people who desire closure), and the different aspects of those desiring closure. I was like, 'OK, this is me. I'm clearly a person who hates openness. I like to-do lists, and I like to cross out things on my to-do list.' I started to wonder if this motivation might explain my aversion toward decision making, so that's when I decided to look into it further."

Theoretically, this is the first body of work to tie these different strategies into a single construct—the notion of decision sidestepping. Otto, who describes her work as the study of "why people don't like to make decisions and how they resolve their aversion," plans to continue this line of research. She's currently exploring how people who seek closure make decisions when there are no sidestepping options available.

Terms of Use | Copyright © 2002 - 2017 CONSTITUENTWORKS SM  CORPORATION. All rights reserved. | Privacy Statement