Why is the trivial important? A reasons-based account for the effects of trivial attributes on choice

Christina L. Brown*, Gregory S. Carpenter

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

117 Scopus citations


Consumers sometimes treat trivial attributes as though they were critically important in the sense that they have a significant impact on choice. We propose a reasons-based account to explain the valuation of trivial attributes and in particular why valuation is in some cases positive and in others negative. We suggest that consumers treat trivial attributes as though they had value when such valuation is instrumental, that is, helps accomplish a task goal. The valence of the effect can depend on whether a positive or negative reason provides a clearer justification for preferring a single brand over its competitors. Thus the same trivial attribute can generate a positive or negative valuation depending on the choice setting. Such valuation is not always driven by inferences about the attribute itself but can reflect transitory reasoning about the brand as a whole, based on the way it is differentiated from its competitors. Results from two experiments support the reasons-based model and help resolve some apparently conflicting effects previously reported for trivial attributes.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)372-385
Number of pages14
JournalJournal of Consumer Research
Issue number4
StatePublished - Mar 2000

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Business and International Management
  • Anthropology
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)
  • Economics and Econometrics
  • Marketing

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