A Matter of Choice
The Decoy Effect as a Covert Influence Tactic
The purpose of this research was to determine whether individuals could use the decoy effect to influence others' choices. In Study 1, undergraduates (n = 50) and executive master of business administration (EMBA) students (n = 24) read an employee selection scenario in which they were randomly assigned to prefer 1 of 2 candidates that were equal in overall attractiveness, but that had different strengths and weaknesses. They were then asked to choose 1 of 3 inferior candidates to add to the choice set that would make their preferred candidate more likely to be chosen by other decision makers.
The "correct" inferior candidate was asymmetrically dominated—dominated by 1 of the 2 existing candidates, but not the other. Participants chose the "correct" decoy candidate at better than chance levels.
In Study 2, undergraduates and EMBA students (total N = 66) completed a set of four decision tasks, in which they were asked to choose from potential decoy alternatives that would highlight their preferred job candidate or the product they preferred to sell to a customer. Participants again chose the correct option at better than chance levels.When participants provided free-response reasons for their choices, these responses indicated a fairly strong recognition of the influential nature of creating a dominating relationship. Implications for understanding this effect and how it may be used by hiring managers, sales personnel, and others who attempt to influence others people's decisions at work, are discussed.
Jerel Slaughter is the Brian Lesk Associate Professor of Management and Organizations at the Eller College of Management, University of Arizona. Edgar E. Kausel is with the Universidad de Chile. Miguel Quiñones is the O. Paul Corley Distinguished Chair of Organizational Behavior at SMU Cox School of Business.
Published in the Journal of Behavioral Decision Making, 24, 249-266.