The Goldilocks Effect: Involve a woman to reach a desirable compromise
Every time a middle-of-the-road compromise is reached, rest assured that there was a woman was involved in the decision making.
A University of Pittsburgh study found that a compromise always occurs among two decision makers when a woman is involved (female-female pairs or mixed gender pairs), but hardly ever when the pair of decision makers are men. The findings could be pertinent to marketers, managers, and consumers alike.
“When men are in the presence of other men, they feel the need to prove their masculinity,” said co-researcher Hristina Nikolova. “Both tend to push away from the compromise option because the compromise option is consistent with feminine norms. On the other hand, extremism is a more masculine trait so that’s why both male partners tend to prefer an extreme option when making decisions together.”
“The decisions we make in pairs may be very different from those we make alone, depending on who we make them with,” according to the study. “Classic compromise effects, also known as the ‘goldilocks effect’ or ‘extremeness aversion,’ may not emerge in all joint consumption decisions.”
Nikolova and Lamberton conducted four experiments with 1,204 students at two U.S universities and a fifth experiment using 673 online participants.
The studies involved different pairs of a man and woman, two women, and two men making decisions on such things as buying printers, toothpaste, flashlights, tires, hotels, headphones, different sizes and shapes of grills, what prizes to seek in a lottery, and whether to buy risky or safe stocks with corresponding high and low returns.
“No matter what the product is, we see the same effects,” said Nikolova. “The compromise effect basically emerges in any pair when there is a woman. However, surprisingly, when you have men choosing together, they actually tend to push away from the compromise option and select one of the extreme options. Say two men are choosing a car and the cars they are considering differ on safety and fuel efficiency — they will either go for the safest car or the one that offers them the most fuel efficiency, but they won’t choose an option that offers a little of both.”
In contrast, individuals and mixed-gender and female-female pairs will likely go for the middle option since it seems reasonable and is easily justified.
According to the study: “When making decisions together, men take actions that are maximally different from feminine norms, which prioritize moderation, and maximally similar to masculine norms, which prioritize extremity. Furthermore, because a female presence makes the masculinity of men in male-female dyads obvious, in these pairings we observe compromise behavior consistent with that of individual decision-makers and female-female dyads.”
“In contrast to men,” says Nikolova, “women act the same together as they would alone because they don’t need to prove anything in front of other women. Womanhood is not precarious and does not need the same level of public defense as manhood. That’s why we observe the compromise effect in the joint decisions of two female partners.”
Interestingly, the research found that compromise is criticized among other men, but embraced by women.
Furthermore, Nikolova said if an organization wants more middle ground decisions made, it’s critical to include a woman in the decision-making pair. In contrast, if a manager wants to “nudge” more all-or-nothing decisions, it is better to entrust them to two men.
As for consumers, it’s important for male consumers to know what they might buy themselves is different from what they would choose with another man.
The study is published in the Journal of Consumer Research.
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