Marketing Papers

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Technical Report

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Journal of Consumer Research





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Decision making often entails conflict. In many situations, the symptoms of such decisional conflict are conspicuous. This article explores an important and unexamined question: How does observing someone else experiencing decisional conflict impact our own preferences? The authors show that observing others' emotional conflict and agony over an impending decision makes the observer's preferences converge to those of the conflicted actor (i.e., choose similarly). Thus this article contributes to the social influence literature by demonstrating that observers' preferences are not only influenced by an actor's ultimate choice, but also by the process leading to this choice. For example, in one experiment, participants' real monetary donations to one of two charities converged to those of a paid confederate who agonized over the decision. Six studies demonstrate this effect and show that it is triggered by empathy and a greater sense of shared identity with the conflicted actor. Accordingly, the studies show the effect is more pronounced for individuals with a greater tendency to empathize with others, and that convergence occurs only if participants deem the actor's conflict warranted given the decision at hand. The authors also demonstrate important implications of this effect in contexts of group decision making.

Copyright/Permission Statement

This is a pre-copyedited, author-produced PDF of an article accepted for publication in the Journal of Consumer Research following peer review. The version of record [Schrift, R.Y. & Amar, M. (2015). Pain and Preferences: Observed Decisional Conflict and the Convergence of Preferences. Journal of Consumer Research 42, no. 4: 515-534] is available online at:


social influence, conflict, empathy, shared identity, preferences



Date Posted: 15 June 2018

This document has been peer reviewed.