Choosing an option leads to more favorable attitudes toward that option (and more negative attitudes toward rejected options) compared to before a choice. This “post-choice spreading of alternatives” has been explained in terms of cognitive dissonance theory. Researchers have recently claimed that only a perception of having made a choice (vs. actual choice) is required to observe this spreading effect. We demonstrate that even this perception is not necessary: spreading of alternatives can occur absent choice or a self-perception of having chosen. Spreading depends on accepting an outcome, rather than on the behavior of choosing. People normally accept the outcomes of their own choices, but they can also accept outcomes without believing they chose them personally. Thus, a phenomenon long thought to result from choice may not require choice at all.
Kurt Munz and Vicki Morwitz