FV-86 | Reversal of the Visual Attraction Effect

Prof. M. Brendl, Dr. O. Atasoy



Research Topic
The attraction effect is one of the most important findings in academic marketingi, and it is actually used by corporations (e.g., Adobeii) when they present their offerings to consumers. As we put in our status report 2020: “In a prototypical experiment, participants choose which of two options they prefer, one called the target (e.g., a computer superior in screen size), the other competitor (a computer superior in screen resolution). The attraction effect obtains when a third option, called decoy, is also offered to participants. The decoy resembles the target but is clearly inferior to it (i.e., similar but worse in screen size and resolution).” While very few respondents choose the decoy, adding it increases the choice share of the target over the competitor. If this effect reverses, it is called a repulsion effect: Then, adding a decoy decreases the choice share of the target compared to the competitor. However, there are very few documented cases and no systematic investigation of such an effect in the literature. Yet, during our 2020 Forum project we have found a way to produce it reliably.  

Statement of the Problem
Despite its popularity, the attraction effect is poorly understood. Specifically, recent high-profile research claims that the effect disappears when the choice options are presented visually rather than numericallyiii. This is of practical relevance because consumers often inspect physical products or visuals depicting them, rather than just examining numerical information about them. For instance, instead of just reading about the resolution of a computer screen, they may examine how a real screen shows images. With the aid of last year’s Forum funding, we made substantial progress in understanding this dilemma. We were able to reliably obtain visual attraction effects, by using visual attributes that are quantitative in nature (e.g., bottle volume). As we expected, visual attraction effects failed to emerge when the attributes were qualitative (e.g., red vs. yellow, type of font), but to our surprise, the attraction effect even reversed. We observed repulsion effects. Thus, when offering the unattractive choice option (the decoy), choice shares of the similar but dominating option (the target) decreased, and those of the competitor increased. 

Our aim is to better understand how visual repulsion effects occur.  Importance, Usefulness, and Novelty of the ProjectDiscovering a new effect of this kind is rare in our discipline, therefore we believe that our discovery has potential for high impact in academic research. However, publishing in toptier journals, our objective, typically requires evidence for an explanation of the effect. Understanding the effect would also increase its realworld applicability. For instance, it would be useful for practitioners to know if the effect hurts the target or helps the competitor. It is also important to understand when it emerges and when not.



iHuber, J., Payne, J. W., & Puto, C. P. (2014). Let‘s be honest about the attraction effect. Journal of Marketing Research, 51(4), 520-525.iiAn example of its use by Adobe: https://www.adobe.com/ch_de/creativecloud/plans.html?promoid=NV3KR7S1&mv=other
iiiFrederick, S., Lee, L., & Baskin, E. (2014). The limits of attraction. Journal of Marketing Research, 51(4), 487-507.