The attribute carryover effect: What the "runner-up" option tells us about consumer choice processes

Wendy Attaya Boland, Merrie Brucks, Jesper H. Nielsen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Scopus citations


The process used to differentiate a top choice from a runner-up can result in a preference reversal among nonselected alternatives, which we term the attribute carryover effect. A series of three experiments demonstrate that a phased choice process can shift attribute preferences. If the top choice is unavailable, consumers with weak attribute preferences are likely to reject their explicitly identified second choice (the runner-up option). Instead, these consumers choose an option that may not meet the initial screening criteria but that does share a desirable, "differentiating" feature with the unavailable top choice. Judgment data indicate that this preference reversal is due to increased salience of the differentiating attribute during the last phase of the original choice, which "carries over" into the subsequent choice. These findings augment our understanding of consumer choice processes and heighten our ability to predict choice outcomes under situations in which a chosen option is unattainable.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)872-885
Number of pages14
JournalJournal of Consumer Research
Issue number5
StatePublished - Feb 2012

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Business and International Management
  • Anthropology
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)
  • Economics and Econometrics
  • Marketing


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