The impact of infectious disease threat on consumers' pattern-seeking in sequential choices

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The pandemic outbreak poses one of the most influential threats. When faced with such a threat, consumers engage in adaptive behaviors, and one way to do so may pertain to pattern-seeking in their choices. Across five studies, we show that consumers exhibit patterns in sequential choice under the threat of COVID-19. Specifically, consumers high (vs. low) in the perceived threat increase sequential patterns in repeated choice regardless of whether the levels of the perceived threat are measured or manipulated. The effect emerges even when a patterned choice option is objectively inferior to a nonpatterned option. The underlying mechanism of the effect is that consumers experience a lower sense of control, which motivates them to seek patterned choices to regain control threatened by the infectious disease. We further show that the effect on patterned choice is stronger for consumers with lower childhood socioeconomic status (SES), who are characterized by a lower sense of control, than their higher childhood SES counterparts. Noting that infectious disease threats are unavoidable, we offer theoretical contributions as well as novel insights into marketing practices under unpredictable and threatening situations.


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