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How the Structure of Choices Influences Consumer Decisions and Experiences


This dissertation contains three papers that together demonstrate how the structure of a choice process and of the information consumers encounter can influence what they think, feel, and do. Chapter 1 investigates how the structure of a choice process—and in particular, the timing of a decision to act relative to the timing of the action—influences how individuals feel at the point of acting. We demonstrate that the emotional experience of guilt is composed of two dissociable sources: one tied to the decision to act, and one tied to the behavior itself. With this unpacking, we find that introducing a temporal gap between one’s decision to act and one’s behavior allows decision guilt to decay, which reduces the guilt at the point of acting and carries important behavioral consequences.

Chapter 2 probes the structure of a purchasing interaction. We compare two ways that the purchase and quantity decisions in a purchase process can be organized. In one, customers make the purchase and quantity decisions separately; in the other, customers simultaneously indicate whether and how much to buy. We find that the simultaneous consideration of both choices changes the psychology of how people decide, and ultimately increases their willingness to purchase. In 27 lab experiments and a large field experiment, we find that this “quantity integration” can lead to substantial lift.

Finally, chapter 3 reveals how the structure of one aspect of a customer interaction, a small monetary incentive, can influence what people believe and accordingly what they do. We show that customers who encounter a small surcharge for failing to perform some behavior infer that this behavior is more socially normative than those who encounter a small discount for performing it. This inference carries key consequences, changing how people feel and what they decide to do in the future. Collectively, these three chapters demonstrate the critical importance of the structuring of choices and information for consumers’ beliefs, emotional responses, decisions, and behaviors.

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