Reasons for the Referent: Reducing Direction of Comparison Effects
Sara D. Hodges
Two studies examined the effects of asking college-aged participants to analyze why they felt the
way they did about two options (student government candidates and college courses) that either
shared positive features but had unique negative features, or that shared negative features but had
unique positive features. Past feature matching studies have revealed a direction of comparison
effect, such that the valence of the unique (unmatched) features of the second option
disproportionately influenced people's preferences. Asking participants in the present studies to
list reasons about the options before rating them reduced direction-of-comparison effects.
Content analysis of the reasons indicates that analyzing reasons may have caused participants to
make more global evaluations of the options and to consider the unique features of both options,
rather than disproportionately focusing on the unique features of just the second option. The
studies suggest a possible context in which analyzing reasons may improve judgments.