Ana Valenzuela is an Associate Professor at Pompeu Fabra University’s Department of Economics and Business and a member of the Graduate Center of Baruch College, City University of New York. She has held positions as Assistant Professor at San Francisco State University and Research Fellow at the Haas School of Business, UC Berkeley. She has a PhD from the University Autónoma of Madrid and an MBA from Georgetown University. Her research papers have been published in journals including the Journal of Marketing Research, the Journal of Marketing, Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes and the Journal of Consumer Researh. She has extensive professional experience working with ACNielsen, PubliEspaña, The Advisory Board Company and the International Monetary Fund (IMF).
ResearchMy research centres around understanding how consumer judgments and choice decisions depend on two important dimensions:
1) the physical characteristics of the choice set;
2) the identity of the decision-maker.
Research in the area of judgment and decision-making has found across the board that consumer judgments are not consistent but malleable, and, preferences therefore tend to change. In particular, the preference construction process is dependent on the interaction between the properties of the choice set and the characteristics of the decision-maker. My research examines judgment and decision biases that arise from two sets of variables: the physical position of options in the choice set and the cultural identity of the decision maker. This work has resulted in two main lines of research, described below.
In addition to my research on position-based and culture-based decision biases, some of my ongoing work also investigates topics such as cross-cultural branding, international marketing strategy, and how a group’s gender mix affects overall performance as well as the strategic use of gender characteristics to achieve success. Much of the work on these topics touches on issues relevant to the understanding of how a decision-maker’s identity and the cross-cultural nature of a business context affect both consumers and marketers.
Position-Based Decision Biases
The physical position of choice options is a dimension that characterises the choice set. Specifically, my research conceptualises “position” as the physical (or virtual) location of a choice option within a physical (or virtual) display of the choice set. In other words, I analyse how the physical placement of a product on display (real or virtual) affects consumer judgments and choice.
My research in this area addresses two important questions:
i) How the physical position of a product or person in an array affects how they are judged and which option is considered best.
ii) How the virtual display of options in customisation interfaces affects trade-off saliency and the subjective difficulty of making the choice, which influences the evaluation of the customisation process and the probability of actually purchasing the product.
In the first line of work (co-authored with Professor Priya Raghubir, New York University), I demonstrate how the position of a person or a product may be used to form inferences about their qualities, which are then incorporated into judgments. My main contributions to this body of research are the following:
In an article in the Journal of Consumer Psychology (2), I demonstrate that consumers expect retailers to place the most popular item in the middle of an array. This belief-based model parsimoniously explains earlier findings by Christenfeld (1995) and Shaw (2000), which showed that consumers prefer the middle option among an array of identical items. Results replicate Shaw’s earlier findings that attention does not drive the effect. Instead, my findings support that position is used as a cue to infer the popularity of a brand, which follows through to product preferences. This belief-based model explains different order effects documented in seemingly unrelated streams of research dealing with the placement of people, response alternatives, choices and products.
Further work in this area resulted in a second paper, now under review by the Journal of Experimental Psychology Applied (6). This paper continues to develop the theory of position-based inferences into a framework that includes beliefs based on both horizontal and vertical positions on shelf arrays. An important contribution to the field is the finding that these effects are asymmetrical. In particular, consumers are aware of the fact that top positions tend be associated with more expensive products, as opposed to bottom positions, but have not consistently confirmed their beliefs regarding horizontal positions. As a consequence, inferential processes in horizontal orientation become less conscious and controllable than those in vertical orientation.
In the domain of people judgments, the journal article published in Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes (4) contributes to the literature by identifying a location advantage in terms of performance evaluations for people who hold central positions in a group. We term this pattern the “Centre-of-Inattention” effect and test it using the TV game show “The Weakest Link” as a performance context. When the task involves identifying performance failures, people holding central positions are more likely to be considered good performers since their performance errors are overlooked. People substitute the schema that important people sit in the centre, for individuating information about those in the centre. As a result, they direct less attention to inconsistent information, i.e. to their performance inaccuracies.
In the second line of work (co-authored with Professor Ravi Dhar, Yale University, and Professor Florian Zettelmeyer, University of Chicago Booth), the paper in the Journal of Marketing Research (3) investigates how the virtual display of options in customisation interfaces affects satisfaction with the self-customisation process and the probability of purchasing the customised option. Customisation allows consumers to exert control over shopping decisions. However, when consumers participate in product customisation, they use their subjective experience of the difficulty in making a choice as an input to decide whether the customised option is actually a good fit to their preferences or not. My main contribution is in showing that trade-offs can be more or less salient depending on the format in which choices are presented. Negative task-related emotions that arise from the conflict associated with facing explicit trade-offs are sufficient to hinder choice satisfaction and justify purchase deferral.
Culture-Based Decision Biases
Culture represents a very important characteristic/identifier of the decision-maker. My research focuses on judgment biases that arise from differences between Western and East Asian individuals in their modes of thought as well as their feelings and desires. Specifically, three of my research papers investigate the differences in judgments and behaviour that arise from cultural variation in both cognitive and motivational mechanisms. My main contributions within this body of research are the following:
My first cross-cultural piece (5, Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, co-authored with Professor Joydeep Srivastava, University of Maryland), explores causal attributions in the context of cross-cultural bargaining. Differences in causal attributions are psychological processes which create many of the behavioural mismatches or misunderstandings in social interactions. It is clear that inferential sources of misunderstanding could occur every time two individuals from different cultures try to explain opponents’ behaviour under incomplete information. An opponent’s behaviour can be attributed to the situation, to the personality of the individual, or to the collective forces potentially influencing the individual. In incomplete information situations, unwarranted perceptions of unfairness and competitiveness could lead to sub-optimal agreements, disagreements, or impasses. This paper examines whether there is preference for personality-based explanations in Western cultures relative to East Asian cultures and the conditions under which cultural differences in causal attributions are manifested. Results support that the cultural context in which the interpersonal conflict is embedded plays an important role in determining resolution outcomes. Most importantly, I find that directing attention to the conditions that facilitate attribution corrections could, at least for East Asian cultures, render judgments less prone to the over-attribution bias.
In my second cross-cultural paper (co-authored with Professor Barbara Mellers, Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, and Professor Judy Strebel, San Francisco State University), published in the Journal of Consumer Research (1), I demonstrate that East Asian and Western consumers experience different affective reactions to unexpected promotional incentives (such as gifts). From a theoretical perspective, this paper is a step forward in establishing that both cognitive and motivational components need to be included in any culture-based model of consumer behaviour. Firstly, Westerners and East Asians tend to rely on different modes of thought (Choi and Nisbett, 2000), which influence causal attributions and explanations of the unexpected. Secondly, Westerners and East Asians differ in their desire to maintain the status quo (Markus and Kitayama, 1991). For Westerners, an unexpected gift may reinforce their feelings of control of the environment. For East Asians, an unexpected gift may be a source of imbalance and a harbinger of bad fortune. Findings support that East Asians are motivated to balance their emotional reactions and therefore reappraise their probability beliefs, which suppress their experience of surprise. On the other hand, East Asians believe in destiny control. As a consequence, they exhibit more positive feelings when they can attribute an unexpected incentive to intangible, fate-related influences, such as good luck. For them, an unexpected incentive connected to luck becomes a delightful surprise.
I am currently working on studies that contribute to the literature by showing that cultural identity determines the way people deal with uncertainty in everyday life. Individuals who think of luck as a factor within their control react to a fortunate event with higher expectations for performance, while those who perceive luck as completely random have lower expectations following initial luck. These results are quite similar to findings in the self-esteem literature concerning ego-threat (e.g. Baumeister et al., 1993). This research proposes that cultural identity will moderate these effects. Since individuals have implicit theories about whether behaviour is driven merely by an individual’s ability (internal locus of control) or by situational forces (external locus of control), their responses to success or failure are likely to differ depending on the theory to which they subscribe. This paper demonstrates that Westerners are willing to make riskier decisions when a positive event enhances their self-esteem because they tend to believe in their own ability to control situations. In contrast, Asian cultures take more risk when they believe their personal good luck will tip the situation in their favour.
1. Valenzuela, Ana, Strebel, Judy and Mellers, Barbara (2010) “Pleasurable Surprises: A Cross-Cultural Study of Consumer Responses to Unexpected Incentives”, Journal of Consumer Research, 36(5), 792-805.
2. Valenzuela, Ana, Dhar, Ravi and Zettelmeyer, Florian (2009) “Contingent Response to Self-Customization Procedures: Implications for Decision Satisfaction and Choice”, Journal of Marketing Research, 46(6), 754-763.
3. Valenzuela, Ana and Raghubir, Priya (2009) “Position-based Beliefs: The Center-Stage Effect”, Journal of Consumer Psychology, 19(2), 185-196.
4. Raghubir, Priya and Valenzuela, Ana* (2006) “Center of Inattention: Position Biases in Decision-Making”, Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, 99(1), 66-80.
5. Valenzuela, Ana, Srivastava, Joydeep and Lee, Seonsu (2005) “The Role of Cultural Orientation in Bargaining under Incomplete Information: Differences in Causal Attributions”, Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, 96 (1), 72-88.
Research under Review
6. Valenzuela, Ana and Raghubir, Priya “Are Top-Bottom Inferences Conscious and Left-Right Inferences Automatic? Implications for Shelf Space Positions” to be resubmitted to the Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 50 pages.