Autonomy in Consumer Choice

Researchers working in many different academic fields such as philosophy, psychology and consumer fields have researched the need for autonomy of people and used different terminologies in doing so. While some use direct autonomy, others have tended to the person’s structures such as destiny or free will. While discussing the interchangeability of these structures in the studies conducted, they are generally referred to the ability of the individual to be his own personality. That is, its ability to be guided by thoughts, desires, circumstances and characteristics that are not externally imposed on a person.

It provides a foundation for personality, leading to concepts of autonomy, morality, character, ethics, or virtue. Thus, autonomy in choice is similar to exercising free will, and self-determination is the use of one’s autonomy. However, this section relies on the same terminology as the authors when describing the current research.

Consumers think of themselves and their actions as having free will, to the point where they openly acknowledge the existence of free will and demonstrate unwavering confidence in its existence. They think about the processes that lead them to a particular choice in terms of deliberation and deliberation, see their own actions as intrinsically motivated and motivated, and find internally consistent reasons when real choice factors are not immediately accessible. Even if it is stated that the actions of others are driven by external circumstances, people are still motivated to ascribe intention and responsibility.

Why do consumers appear to have such an unshakable belief in their own free will and why, when asked, define their actions as a result of deliberate choices and autonomous decisions? A stream of research sees consumers’ belief in free will as a fundamental principle of human psychology. DeCharms proposed the concept of personal causality, referring to the tendency of people to own their actions and attribute positive results to their own actions. Nuttin suggests that this tendency is hedonically motivated and that people experience the pleasure of causation, a positive effect resulting from personally causing an event, regardless of the emotion associated with the event itself.

In other words, he argued, people enjoy seeing the impact of their actions on the world. His theory was developed by Deci and Ryan, who found that the experience of causality pleasure is motivated by two basic psychological needs; this is the need for competence (the ability to influence the world in meaningful ways) and the need for autonomy. From this perspective, the drive to choose and feel one’s ownership of their choices is guided by the resulting positive impact.

A second stream of research takes a functional approach to understanding people’s belief in their free will, self-determination and autonomy. Baumeister et al. He suggests that belief in self-determined choices is a high-level cognitive function that allows people to correct their behavior over time and align their choices with their long-term goals by providing a sense of continuity in choices between times. And it is a sense of ownership in moral dilemmas. Similarly, Wegner argues that the perception of their free will allows people to develop a sense of self and moral responsibility.

As people experience continuity between their beliefs, thoughts, actions, and the consequences that result from them, they can experience pride and closure when their actions are consistent with those beliefs and thoughts. Similarly, they may feel guilt, shame, and regret when their actions conflict with their beliefs and thoughts. Contrary to the previous view, the belief in self-determination developed to facilitate self-regulation rather than serving hedonic purposes.

In light of the functional importance of people’s beliefs in the autonomy of their decision-making processes, one might wonder why these beliefs and perceptions are not always evident to them. Although people make hundreds of decisions every day, it is possible that they only describe a few of them as spontaneous choices. And among those who define themselves as choices, fewer are expected to create the experience of subjective autonomy. The two views presented above inform us about the types of decisions that lead to a sense of autonomy.

According to the perspective of self-determination, belief in free will responds to the need to link one’s thoughts and desires to results. Choice is an action with apparent mental causality, where one’s thoughts are “seen as the cause”. Being free to choose from multiple options in pursuing a goal (for example, choosing one of several different ways to complete a task) instills a sense of autonomy in people that can create a positive impact and a high sense of motivation.

Conversely, feeling restricted in choice has been shown to weaken people’s motivation and provoke a psychological response. Therefore, any action that is intrinsic and freely motivated and has a noticeable impact on the world is prone to satisfy the consumers’ need for autonomy, but the act of choice and conscious awareness of one’s not being constrained in the decision-making process are key to this, and it highlights the experience of autonomy.

The second viewpoint, interpreting the experience of free will as an adaptive process that underpins self-regulation, requires a more restrictive view that the experience of subjective autonomy emerges from decisions involving an intertemporal or moral conflict. Since such decisions require accepting the contradiction between multiple selves, they make the mental process of arbitration between the two options distinct. On the contrary, decisions that do not involve any form of struggle or internal conflict do not require the resolution of the conflict, and the mental processes of the decisions are not visible to the person.

These two perspectives, which have not yet been empirically compared with each other, have different implications for electoral architecture, marketing, and public policy. Consider the example mentioned in the introduction: a car manufacturer trying to promote self-driving cars. The producer would want to avoid creating perceptions among users that they are relinquishing their autonomy by being transported by such a vehicle.

From the first point of view (apparent mental causality) this may include assurances that users can still take control of the vehicle if they choose to avoid the reaction or give consumers the opportunity to customize the features of the autonomous algorithm. On the other hand, if the key to creating a sense of agency is the feeling of struggle and conflict, then the manufacturer may be better off paradoxically emphasizing the moral aspects of giving up driving. For example, by allowing a computer to drive the vehicle, the consumer contributes to safer roads and more energy-efficient transportation.


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