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Negative Affect and Choice:
The Moderating Effect of Procedural and Outcome Accountability
Nitika Garg
School of Business Administration
The University of Mississippi
University, MS 38677
Phone: (662) 915-1648
Fax: (662) 915-5821
Vikas Mittal
Jesse H. Jones Graduate School of Management
Rice University
Houston, TX 77005
Phone: (713) 348-6234
J. Jeffrey Inman
Katz Graduate School of Business
University of Pittsburgh
Pittsburgh, PA 15260
Phone: (412) 648-1570
Extended Abstract
Negative affect in decision making has captured the interest of researchers for quite some
time in both psychology and marketing. Incidental affect, also known as ambient affect, is affect
that a consumer may imbue from her environment in isolation to the decision on hand. More
recently, the focus has shifted away from simple emotion valence (positive, negative) to more
specific, discrete affective states such as sadness, anger and fear (Desteno et al. 2000; Lerner and
Keltner 2000, 2001; Tiedens and Linton 2001; Raghunathan and Pham 1999). Researchers have
found differences not only between negative and positive affect but also between different
discrete emotions having the same valence (e.g., anger/sadness, pride/happiness). Lerner and
Keltner (2000, 2001) proposed the ‘appraisal-tendency’ approach, which hypothesizes that ‘each
emotion activates a predisposition to appraise future events in line with the central appraisal
dimension that triggers the emotion’. For example, they find that fearful people make pessimistic
risk assessments and future events judgments whereas angry people make optimistic assessments
in the same scenarios.
Research has also shown that while incidental affect influences many aspects of judgment
and decision making, there are moderating factors that successfully attenuate the effect of
emotions. For example, Desteno et al. (2000) find that making subjects aware of the source of
their affect wipes out the influence of affect. Another factor that has been consistently shown to
moderate the effect of emotions is accountability. Accountability refers to the implicit or explicit
expectation that one may be called on to justify one’s beliefs, feelings and/or actions to others
(Lerner and Tetlock 1999). Past research has shown that increasing the level of accountability
makes the decision process more elaborate and effortful (Chaiken 1980; Thompson et al. 1994).
It has also been found to lead to attenuation of the effect of incidental emotions on unrelated
judgments (Bodenhausen, Kramer and Susser 1994; Lerner, Goldberg and Tetlock 1998). Lerner
et al. (1998) found that the tendency of anger to elicit punitive attributions of responsibility was
reduced when subjects were accountable. However, more recent research in accountability has
revealed that there are two forms of accountability – process and outcome based – that can have
differential influence on decision making (Simonson and Staw 1992; Zhang and Mittal 2005).
Under process accountability (PA) decision makers are accountable for the procedure used to
arrive at a decision whereas under outcome accountability (OA) they are accountable only for the
quality of the outcome, with no evaluation of their decision process (Escalas and Luce 2004).
This research also shows that PA and OA differentially influence the perceived difficulty of a
decision and that decision biases are relatively lower under PA than under OA. However, the few
empirical studies comparing PA and OA have not examined how the influence of a contextual
factor such as incidental affect on consumer choice is moderated by these two types of
The objective of this research then, is to examine the interactive effect of incidental
negative affect with the accountability degree (low vs. high) and type (PA vs. OA). Specifically,
we examine the differential impact of two discrete, negative emotions – anger and fear – on
consumer choice with accountability degree (study 1) and type (study 2) as the moderating
factors. We hypothesize that consumers experiencing different negative emotions will display
differential reliance on the avoidance choice strategies such as delaying the decision, and that
this effect will be moderated by accountability. Our reasoning for the above hypothesis is that
anger versus fear differentially impacts subject’s degree of certainty. Previous research has
shown anger to have a higher degree of certainty associated with it as compared to fear (Smith
and Ellsworth 1985). Garg, Inman and Mittal (2005) have further, shown that this difference in
certainty can lead to angry individuals choosing the avoidance option more than sad (fear is close
to sad in terms of ‘certainty’) individuals when faced with a difficult decision. On the other hand,
we predict that fearful individuals should exhibit similar choice patterns under both types of
accountability and under low versus high accountability as their lack of certainty should lead
them to make the decision more deliberately, irrespective of the accountability degree and type.
Study 1 finds that making people accountable for their decision (i.e., manipulating
degree) actually amplifies the decision bias in angry condition which results in angry individuals
choosing to defer choice, an avoidance response. As expected, fearful individuals do not exhibit
any difference in avoidance choice across the two accountability conditions. Study 2 manipulates
accountability type. We expect that under OA which has higher perceived difficulty (Zhang and
Mittal 2005), angry individuals will choose the avoidance option more than fearful or neutral
individuals will and also, more than angry individuals will under PA. Thus, we predict that
unlike OA, PA will negate the influence of incidental affect on choice and lead to more balanced
choice process, highlighting the differences across the two types of accountability.
Study 2 supports these predictions. The two studies together, highlight an interesting
insight into the nature of accountability – accountability degree implicitly manipulates outcome
accountability. That is, when no accountability type is specified, accountable people assume
outcome accountability. This is evident when we compare results for high accountability and
those for OA across Study 1 and 2. The final study (study 3) seeks to not only replicate the
results from Study 2 but also, examine the role of optimism in so far, as emotions with varying
levels of certainty are linked to differential levels of optimism (Lerner and Keltner 2001).
Examining optimism should provide a greater understanding of the underlying mechanisms that
might be implicated in this phenomenon. The implications of the findings for academics as well
as managers, are discussed.
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