Preventing Motivated Defense Behavior against Market Research
Preventing Motivated Defense Behavior against Market
Research Insights - An Experimental Study on
Managerial Decision Behavior
of the University of St.Gallen,
School of Management,
Economics, Law, Social Sciences
and International Affairs
to obtain the title of
Doctor of Philosophy in Management
Approved on the application of
Prof. Dr. Sven Reinecke
Prof. Dr. Torsten Tomczak
Dissertation no. 4343
The University of St. Gallen, School of Management, Economics, Law, Social
Sciences and International Affairs hereby consents to the printing of the present
dissertation, without hereby expressing any opinion on the views herein expressed.
St. Gallen, October 22, 2014
Prof. Dr. Thomas Bieger
It is my very pleasure to express my gratitude to the people who supported me
throughout the process of my dissertation.
In particular, I am very grateful to my doctoral supervisor Prof. Dr. Sven Reinecke for
his guidance and support. I highly appreciate that he helped to maintain a focus on
bridging the gap between managerial challenges and scientific approaches. I would
also like to thank Prof. Dr. Torsten Tomczak for co-supervising and his valuable
feedback. Moreover, I am deeply indebted to my mentors Prof. Dr. Peter Mathias
Fischer (University of St.Gallen) and Prof. Dr. Anne Laure Sellier (HEC Paris) not
only for their enlightening comments and priceless advice but also for making this
dissertation an enjoyable journey. Peter has always supported my research process. His
passion for science and his persevering trust in my dissertation kept me going,
particularly, when it was necessary to leave the comfort zone. Anne Laure is an
inspiring role model for a female young professional like me and I feel lucky that her
experience and knowledge has left a mark on my research project as well as on my
Many thanks to the participants in my empirical studies who have willingly shared
their precious time in order to support scientific research on managerial decision
behavior. For financial support on my extremely instructive visiting research year
abroad, I thank the Swiss National Science Foundation.
As a research associate at the Institute of Marketing, I was working in a very friendly
and supportive environment. In particular, my sincere thanks go to Dennis Herhausen,
Christian Schmitz, Jochen Binder, Johannes Hattula, and Alexander Schagen for their
advanced advice regarding the dissertation process and for making this time also
enjoyable from day one, for example, with legendary “Tischkicker” sessions.
Likewise, I am thankful for having shared the ups and downs of a dissertation with my
“Dream Team” PhD-courses partners Kirsten Mrkwicka and Eva Steinbacher, and
with the best “Office-Roommate-Ever” Benjamin Berghaus. Furthermore, many
thanks to Robert Hohenhauer, Cansu Oral, You-Cheong Lee, Carla Thaper, and
Carmen Maier for their various and kind support. The dissertation had also given me
the opportunity to exchange ideas and experience with other (former) PhD students,
however, I want to express a special thanks to Klemens Knöferle, Susanne Schmidt,
Janice Spiess, Miriam van Tillburg, and Amir Bonakdar for learning, listening, and
Also, I like to thank my long-standing friends Melanie Horstmann, Simone Daum,
Claudia Fuchs, Sarah Ehmann, Julia Senkbeil, Katharina Boxleitner, Caroline Basu,
and Elodie Bobard who initially encouraged me to start a dissertation, strengthened
my confidence during the process, and eventually helped me to recognize that the time
had come to finalize this project and move on. Last, but certainly not least, I am very
grateful to my family in Germany and Austria for their firm belief in me.
I dedicate my thesis to my dad Erwin Eberharter and my aunt Monica Maue who had
installed a joy of learning in me – the greatest motive for my dissertation.
Table of Contents
Table of Contents ............................................................................................................. I
List of Figures ............................................................................................................... III
List of Tables ................................................................................................................ IV
List of Abbreviations ..................................................................................................... V
Abstract ......................................................................................................................... VI
Theoretical Development and Literature Review ..................................................... 9
Problem Statement and Relevance ............................................................................... 1
Dissertation Overview .................................................................................................. 4
Impact of Market Research Insights in Marketing Management ................................. 9
Influence of Identity on Decision Behavior ................................................................ 15
Defensive Behavior in Self-Affirmation Theory ........................................................ 16
Critical Role of Relationship Norms .......................................................................... 21
Conceptual Framework and Hypotheses .................................................................... 28
Study 1: Contextual Factors of the Facts-Be-Damned Bias ................................... 32
Outline ........................................................................................................................ 32
Method ........................................................................................................................ 32
Results ......................................................................................................................... 37
Participants ...................................................................................................................... 32
Procedure and Materials .................................................................................................. 33
Checks ............................................................................................................................. 37
Moderated Regression Analysis ...................................................................................... 38
Floodlight Analysis ......................................................................................................... 40
Discussion ................................................................................................................... 43
Study 2: Evidence for Managers’ Defensive Behavior against Market Research
Insights .......................................................................................................................... 44
Outline ........................................................................................................................ 44
Method and Materials ................................................................................................. 44
Participants ...................................................................................................................... 44
Procedure ......................................................................................................................... 45
Results ......................................................................................................................... 48
Checks ............................................................................................................................. 48
Moderated Regression Analysis ...................................................................................... 48
Floodlight Analysis ......................................................................................................... 50
Discussion ................................................................................................................... 52
Study 3: Role of Relationship Norms between Decision Makers and Market
Researchers ................................................................................................................... 53
Outline ........................................................................................................................ 53
Pre-Study: Communal and Exchange Relationship Norms Manipulation ................. 54
Method ........................................................................................................................ 57
Results ......................................................................................................................... 59
Participants ...................................................................................................................... 57
Procedure ......................................................................................................................... 57
Checks ............................................................................................................................. 59
Moderated Regression Analysis ...................................................................................... 59
Floodlight Analysis ......................................................................................................... 61
Discussion ................................................................................................................... 63
General Discussion ................................................................................................. 64
Summary of Key Findings .......................................................................................... 64
Theoretical Contribution ............................................................................................. 65
Managerial Implications ............................................................................................. 68
How Managers Can Avoid Succumbing to the Facts-Be-Damned Bias ......................... 68
Market Researchers Need Additional Negotiation Skills ................................................ 71
Organizational Cultures and Standards in the Era of Big Data ....................................... 73
Limitations and Further Research ............................................................................... 76
Limitation of Experimental Approach and Setting.......................................................... 76
General Avenues for Future Research ............................................................................. 78
References ..................................................................................................................... 82
Curriculum Vitae .......................................................................................................... 97
List of Figures
Figure 1: Outline of Dissertation .................................................................................... 7
Figure 2: Schematic Representation of Self‐System .................................................... 18
Figure 3: Introduction of the Business Case Study ...................................................... 33
Figure 4: Manipulation of the Threatening Market Research Insights ......................... 35
Figure 5: Decision Task – Allocation of Sponsoring Budget ....................................... 35
Figure 6: Measure of Strength of Identification with Running .................................... 37
Figure 7: Simple Slopes of Study 1 – Allocation of Sponsoring Budget ..................... 42
Figure 8: Example of Choice of Marketing Testimonials in Study 2 ........................... 47
Figure 9: Simple Slopes of Study 2 – Preference for Marketing Testimonials ............ 51
Figure 10: Simple Slopes of Study 3 – Allocation of Sponsoring Budget ................... 62
List of Tables
Table 1: Overview of Empirical Studies......................................................................... 8
Table 2: Empirical Studies on Market Research in Marketing Management............... 12
Table 3: Norms of Exchange and Communal Relationships ........................................ 23
Table 4: Exchange and Communal Relationship Norms in Marketing Research ........ 26
Table 5: Moderated Regression Results of Study 1 – Budget Running ....................... 42
Table 6: Moderated Regression Results of Study 2 – Testimonial Running................ 51
Table 7: Moderated Regression Results of Study 3 – Budget Running ....................... 62
List of Abbreviations
Level of Self-Affirmation (Centered)
American Marketing Association
Sponsoring Budget Allocated to Running
Chief Executive Officer
Interest in Golf (Centered)
Strength of Identification with Golf (Centered)
Market Research Insights
Preference towards the Running Testimonial
Strength of Identification with Running (Centered)
Statistical Package for the Social Sciences
United States of America
Market research insights are doubtlessly an integral part of decision making in
marketing management. However, the criticism of the selective use of objective data
according to managers’ personal comfort zone is also unmistakable. The present
dissertation addresses this criticism and investigates data-based decision behavior in
marketing management, when managers strongly identify on a personal level with the
market they are serving. For this reason a business case study is developed forming the
framework for three experimental online studies with marketing managers as
participants. The results of all three experiments consistently show that managers with
a strong identification tend to make decisions going against market research insights,
when the objective data clash with the self-associated market. The present research
terms this seemingly irrational decision behavior the “facts-be-damned bias.” It occurs
only when market research insights are perceived as potentially self-threatening
(Study 1), and is demonstrably triggered through a mental defense mechanism
(Study 2). Preventing the facts-be-damned bias is not trivial because defense
mechanisms operate under the radar of people’s own conscious awareness. In accord
with the established theory of self-affirmation, however, the findings show that
managers are better able to objectively process self-threatening data when they are
provided with self-affirmation unrelated to the decision task (Study 2). Furthermore,
the findings reveal that the type of relationship norm between managers and market
researchers constitutes an interesting boundary condition for the facts-be-damned bias
(Study 3). While norms of a communal relationship favor the bias, norms of an
exchange relationship mitigate it. Based on the overall findings, implications are
drawn for managerial decision makers, market researchers, and organizations.
Marktforschungsinformationen über Konsumenten und Märkte sind zweifelsohne ein
integraler Bestandteil der Entscheidungsfindung im Marketing Management.
Allerdings lässt sich auch die Kritik über die selektive Nutzung von objektiven Daten
nach der persönlichen Komfortzone der Marketingentscheider nicht überhören. Die
vorliegende Dissertation greift diese Kritik auf und untersucht, wie Entscheidungen im
Marketing Management anhand von objektiven Daten getroffen werden, wenn sich
Manager mit einem strategischen Markt persönlich stark identifizieren. Zu diesem
Zwecke wird eine Unternehmensfallstudie entwickelt, die den Rahmen für drei
experimentelle online Studien mit Marketing Manager als Probanden schafft. Die
Ergebnisse aller drei Experimente zeigen konsequent, dass Manager mit einer starken
Identifikation tendenziell Entscheidungen entgegen den Marktforschungsdaten treffen,
wenn die objektiven Daten im Konflikt mit dem selbst-assoziierten Markt stehen. Die
Arbeit benennt dieses scheinbar irrationale Entscheidungsverhalten als den
„Facts-Be-Damned Bias“. Dieser tritt ausschliesslich auf, wenn die Marktforschungsinformationen als potentiell selbst-bedrohlich wahrgenommen werden können
(Studie 1), und wird nachweislich durch einen mentalen Abwehrmechanismus
ausgelöst (Studie 2). Eine Prävention des Facts-Be-Damned Bias ist nicht trivial, da
man das eigene defensive Verhalten kaum bewusst wahrnehmen kann. Anhand der
wissenschaftlich etablierten Selbstbestätigungstheorie kann allerdings gezeigt werden,
dass Manager objektiver mit selbst-bedrohlichen Informationen umgehen, wenn sie
zuvor in einem Bereich persönlich bestärkt werden, der keinen Bezug zur
Entscheidungssituation hat (Studie 2). Des Weiteren stellen beziehungsdefinierende
Normen zwischen Managern und Marktforschern eine interessante Rahmenbedingung
für den Facts-Be-Damned Bias dar (Studie 3). Während gemeinschaftsbezogene
Beziehungsnormen entschärfend. Basierend auf diesen Erkenntnissen werden
Implikationen für Entscheider im Marketing Management, Marktforschern und
“We all have a tendency to use research as a drunkard uses a lamppost
– for support, but not for illumination.”
David Ogilvy, advertising pioneer and founder of Ogilvy Group
1.1 Problem Statement and Relevance
In marketing management, decision makers frequently consult market research to
better understand the fluctuating demands of consumers and adapt their strategy to
dynamic markets. Wierenga (2011) pointed out that “marketing management involves
a unique combination of hard data and soft judgment.” Accordingly, marketing
professors in business schools around the world teach that market research can help
managers both identify opportunities and solve problems they are confronted with. Lee
and Bradlow (2011) refer to market research as the “lifeblood of the field of marketing
practice” (p. 881). To illustrate, in the late 1990s, Nick Schreiber – CEO of Tetra Pak
at the time – justified the implementation of a customer satisfaction survey across all
market units by urging his managers to “not trust your gut-feel. Measure it” (Kashani
2002). Similarly, the US consumer goods giant Procter & Gamble currently integrates
analytics in day-to-day decisions through no less than 50,000 “decision cockpits.” The
American Marketing Association defined the role of market research as follows
“Marketing research is the function that links the consumer, customer, and public to the
marketer through information – information used to identify and define marketing
opportunities and problems; generate, refine, and evaluate marketing actions; monitor
marketing performance; and improve understanding of marketing as a process.
Marketing research specifies the information required to address these issues, designs
the method for collecting information, manages and implements the data collection
process, analyzes the results, and communicates the findings and their implications.”
Market research insights are doubtlessly an integral part of decision making in
marketing management. However, managers have been criticized to use data-based
information selectively. Ulrich Lachmann, a former market research director at Philips
Germany, pointed out that market research insights disconfirming managers’
expectations are often discounted as wrong or irrelevant (1994). Similarly, scientific
research in marketing found that managers use market research insights significantly
less when those insights appear to be “surprising” (Deshpande and Zaltman 1982).
Reinecke and Tomczak (1994) criticized managerial decision makers who dismiss
market research providers’ interpretation of data – a behavior that could be interpreted
as an indication of fear that insights could clash with the manager’s personal
preferences. Hence, in spite of receiving structured and valuable information,
executives in marketing might nonetheless carry out decisions that deviate from databased decision making. This is because our mental filters operate to interpret
information at hand in a way that comforts our self.
In his book Denial: Why Business Leaders Fail to Look Facts in the Face – and What
to Do About It, Richard S. Tedlow describes several prominent examples when top
decision makers hesitated to leave their comfort zone in order to face important market
changes and new consumer demands. For instance, Henry Ford once denied
information suggesting that consumers want cars that represent a status symbol.
Adhering to the T Model, he continued to promote cars as a basic form of
transportation, an attitude that became detrimental for the whole company (Tedlow
2010). Would this situation have turned out differently if Ford had lived in the datadriven world of today?
In a more recent example, we witnessed the rise and fall of BlackBerry. In 2008,
BlackBerry was the most popular “smart phone” with a market share of 45 percent in
the US (MacCormack, Dunn, and Kemerer 2013). However, decision makers at
BlackBerry widely ignored obvious facts indicating that touch screens strongly
appealed to consumers. They continued to promote keyboards on smart devices to
protect their flagship product (Shih and MacCormack 2013). After Apple introduced
the iPhone in 2007, Jim Balsillie – co-founder and co-CEO of BlackBerry – stated in
an interview: “We’re a very poorly diversified portfolio. It either goes to the moon or
it crashes to earth. But it’s making it to the moon pretty well, so we’ll stick with it”
(CrackBerry.com 2008; see also Cohan 2012). During 2011, the company’s stock price
fell from $70 to $12.45 a share (MacCormack, Dunn, and Kemerer 2013).
Prominent cases such as these illustrate the detrimental consequences of ignoring
dynamic markets and changing consumer demands. Universities and organizations are
putting a great deal of effort into enhancing the quality of data-based information, but
meanwhile we need to better understand how managers in marketing use market
research insights. Understanding managerial decision behavior and appropriately
responding to it, requires the application of behavioral science in a management
context (cf. Wierenga 2011). Sigmund Freud (1856-1939) once compared the human
mind to an iceberg, indicating that most of our actions are motivated through aspects
that lie under the surface, with only a small portion of the whole showing above.
Today we have realized that the concept of biased behavior does apply to all of us, not
only in our personal life but in our professional work as well. “Armed with the
knowledge that human beings are motivated by cognitive biases of which they are
largely unaware […], businesses can start to better defend against foolishness and
waste” (Ariely 2009). The famous advertising businessman David Ogilvy reformulated
an often-quoted saying as “we all have the tendency to use research for support, rather
than illumination” – presumably indicating that he himself had fallen into this human
pattern at some point.
Building on a previously made claim that managers’ “comfort zone” determines the
use of market research insights (Deshpande and Zaltman 1982, 1984), our research
goal is to answer the following important questions about data-based inferences made
by marketing managers. Do managers make biased decisions going against market
research insights? If so, which contextual factors provoke this biased behavior? What
is the underlying psychological mechanism? How can organizations prevent such
biased decision behavior? Does the interaction between managerial decision makers
and market researchers influence whether or not unexpected or inconvenient market
research insights are dismissed or used inappropriately?
Among marketing managers who are generally well trained to use data about
consumers and markets for decision making, we found a robust defensive behavior
against market research insights. We coin this phenomenon “the facts-be-damned
bias,” a human tendency illustrating one deleterious use of market research insights as
support rather than illumination.
1.2 Dissertation Overview
The dissertation overview is illustrated in Figure 1. The overall structure consists of
six main chapters, with the first chapter presenting this introduction including the
previous description of the problem statement and relevance of the dissertation topic,
and this overview section.
Chapter 2 presents the theoretical development of the dissertation, drawing on
literature from various research streams. Section 2.1 summarizes prior research in
marketing that has investigated the impact of market research insights on marketing
management. In particular, we point out that research in marketing management has in
passing mentioned the occurrence of managers’ defensive behavior against market
research insights (e.g., Deshpande and Zaltman 1982), but to date has not investigated
this phenomenon from a behavioral and psychological perspective. Proposing that
managers are most motivated to defend products and markets that are associated with a
central part of their self, we link our conceptualization to aspects of identity and
outline selective identity literature in section 2.2. In section 2.3, we emphasize that
research on self-affirmation theory provides the key to understanding managers’
defensive behavior against market research insights, and we discuss prior research in
detail. An integral part of this dissertation involves the investigation of a boundary
condition that can mitigate the proposed defense bias among managers. In this regard,
we review literature on communal and exchange relationship norms in section 2.4,
transferring this concept to the interaction between managerial decision makers and
providers of market research insights. In section 2.5, we present our final
conceptualization coining managers’ defensive behavior against market research
insights the “facts-be-damned bias”. We refine our hypotheses according to which
managers display the facts-be-damned bias when market research insights threaten
their self-associated domains, noting that this defensive behavior is mitigated when
managers and market researchers follow exchange rather than communal relationship
Chapters 3 to 5 present three experimental studies testing our hypotheses. Table 1
illustrates an overview of our studies and the key findings. For the overall
experimental storyline, we chose a sport context since sport categories often represent
a valued domain of a person’s self-concept. In all three studies, we adopt a common
basic procedure: participants imagine that they are the marketing head of a (fictitious)
company selling running and golf gear. Using company information and recent market
research insights about the running and the golf markets, they are asked to make a
marketing management decision. To increase external validity, we invited actual
managers – professionally trained to treat data objectively – to take part in our first
More specifically, in chapter 3 we introduce our first study investigating the contextual
factors that trigger the facts-be-damned bias among marketing managers. We
manipulated the market research insights to either threaten or not threaten the selfassociated domain in order to examine whether the facts-be-damned bias kicks in
following exposure to self-threatening data but not to non-threatening data
(Hypothesis 1). Overall, 213 marketing managers took part in our first study allocating
a sponsoring budget between the two divisions, running and golf. We measured
participants’ strength of identification with the two sports using a scale that illustrates
different overlaps of two circles, one circle representing the target sport (e.g.,
“running”) and another circle the participant (“me”). In support of our hypothesis, we
found that managers made a decision against market research insights as a function of
their identification strength with the threatened domain.
In chapter 4 we present our second study replicating our previous finding and testing
whether a defense mechanism causes the facts-be-damned bias (Hypothesis 2).
Referring to prior research, we introduce a common self-affirmation intervention that
had previously been used to turn off defense mechanisms against self-threat (e.g.,
Puntoni, Sweldens, and Tavassoli 2011). We recruited 89 marketing managers and
manipulated whether or not our participants are self-affirmed in an unrelated task
before we exposed them to self-threatening market research insights. We further
modified our experimental storyline for the purpose of external validity and asked our
participants to select the company’s future marketing testimonial. Using the same
strength of identification measure as in our first study, we again show that managers
display the facts-be-damned bias. However, providing managers with self-affirmation
indeed mitigated their defensive behavior against the self-threatening market research
Chapter 5 contains our last study, investigating the moderating role of relationship
norms between managerial decision makers and market researchers. More specifically,
we aim to test whether exchange relationship norms can mitigate the facts-be-damned
bias, while communal relationship norms do not (Hypothesis 3). For this purpose we
recruited 82 marathon runners for our experimental business case study with the
supposition that they should be most motivated to defend the self-associated running
market against threatening market research insights. In this context, we additionally
measured participants’ current level of feeling self-affirmed using a self-integrity scale
from prior research (Sherman, Cohen, Nelson, Nussbaum, Bunyan, and Garcia 2009;
Townsend and Sood 2012).
In chapter 6, we conclude with a general discussion of our research findings. First, we
deliberate the key findings of our three experimental studies. We follow with the
discussion of our contribution to existing research and our managerial implications.
Finally, we outline the potential limitations of our research and suggest avenues for
future research in this area.
Figure 1: Outline of Dissertation
Does a defense
mechanism cause the executives
managers and market
insights trigger a
The more managers identify with the market they are
working on, the more they tend to defend their selfassociated domain.
Managers’ decisions become a function of their
identification strength when market research insights
threaten a self-associated domain, but this effect is
non-significant when insights are relatively neutral.
When market research insights threaten a selfassociated domain, managers display the facts-bedamned bias.
Given that managers strongly identify with the
market they are working on, their decision is more
(less) likely to go against threatening market
research insights, the less (more) they feel selfaffirmed.
However, this pernicious defensive behavior of the
facts-be-damned bias only occurs when managers
and market researchers follow communal
In exchange relationship norms, non-affirmed and
affirmed managers make the same decision not
displaying the facts-be-damned bias.
Managers display the facts-be-damned bias in
affirmation prime vs. different decision tasks (control condition),
indicating the robustness of the bias.
An unrelated self-affirmation intervention can turn
off the effect of identification strength on managers’
decisions, although market research insights
threatened the self-associated domain.
Since affirmed managers are immune against the
facts-be-damned bias, we can confirm that defense
mechanism causes it.
Table 1: Overview of Empirical Studies
2 Theoretical Development and Literature Review
2.1 Impact of Market Research Insights in Marketing Management
In general, marketing managers have to consider a myriad of factors influencing the
outcomes of marketing activities – for instance, consumer demands, actions of
competitors and resellers, economic and political developments, environmental
changes, and technological innovations (cf. Wierenga 2011). In order to help
orchestrate marketing campaigns and strategies under complex conditions, market
research offers a wide variety of data-based information that aims to reduce aspects of
uncertainty. Traditionally, the role of market research has been defined as “the
systematic and objective identification, collection, analysis, and dissemination of
information for the purpose of assisting management in decision making […]”
Prior research has demonstrated the importance of market research insights for
marketing management. For instance, when marketing experts had no access to
consumer insights, their “intuitive predictions” were no more accurate than those of
non-experts (Hoch 1988). Wierenga (2011) recently pointed out that a unique skill of
marketing managers is the adequate use of market research insights. More than twenty
years ago, Blattberg and Hoch (1990) demonstrated that a “50% Model and 50%
Manager” heuristic significantly improved brand managers’ forecast quality for
coupon redemption rates. Along with the improvement of individual decision-making
performance, organizational research highlighted the fact that taking actions based on
market research insights is a cornerstone of firms’ market orientation (Kohli and
Jaworski 1990) and a sustainable competitive advantage (Glazer 1991). Moreover, the
importance of market research insights for effective decision making in marketing
management continuously increases, with recent developments encompassing Web
analytics and the ever-growing promise of big data.
Prior research in marketing also investigated managers’ use of market research
insights. Table 2 summarizes in a chronological order those empirical studies. In a
series of survey-based studies Deshpande and Zaltman (1982; 1984; 1987; Deshpande
1982) first identified several factors having an important influence on the effectiveness
of market research insights. Conducting an experimental study, Lee, Acito, and Day
(1987) further confirmed the influence of prior beliefs on data-based decision making.
Following research then aimed to address “how” specific factors such as managers’
experience, type of decision task (Perkins and Rao 1990), and trust between managers
and market researchers (Moorman, Deshpande and Zaltman 1992) affect the use of
data-based information. More recent studies turned the attention to behavioral biases.
Biyalogorsky, Boulding, and Staelin (2006) showed how managers neglect new databased information because of the escalation bias. Hutchinson, Alba, and Einstein
(2010) demonstrated that biases caused by heuristics to make data-based inferences are
difficult to overcome. Overall, it seems that research in marketing started with a
relatively holistic perspective on the use of market research insights, and is now
developing this field towards managerial decision making behavior (cf. Wierenga
Most prior research has particularly criticized managers’ frequent resistance to using
insights readily available to them (e.g., Deshpande and Zaltman 1982, 1984; Lee,
Acito, and Day 1987). In particular, Deshpande and Zaltman (1982) found that
“surprising” market research insights hardly impact managers’ decisions, regardless of
data quality and decision relevance. This finding has been shown to occur among
consumer product managers as well as industrial managers (Deshpande and Zaltmann
1987). Deshpande and Zaltman concluded that belief-disconfirming market research
insights fall outside a decision maker’s personal “comfort zone” (1982; 1984). They
further draw the inference that when “research shows that the pet product of a senior
marketing manager (its ‘champion’) is not faring well in the marketplace, the manager
may be as likely (or more likely) to criticize the research study than to find fault with
the product” (Deshpande and Zaltman 1984, p. 37). Hence, prior research indicates
that managers tend to react defensively when market research clashes with their
personal “pet products.” However, research has not provided evidence for such a
defense bias against market research insights. Moreover, the question should be raised
as to how organizations can mitigate managers’ defensive reactions and facilitate the
acceptance of sound market research insights beyond an individual’s comfort zone.
An important factor affecting managers’ use of market research insights is the quality
of interaction between managers and providers of those insights. In this regard, prior
research has made a recurring recommendation to establish trusting relationships
between managers and market researchers. Trust in market researchers creates trust in
data provided and thus reduces managers’ uncertainty associated with the use of
market research insights (Deshpande and Zaltman 1982; Moorman, Zaltman, and
acknowledged that the factor of trust only partially explains interpersonal interaction
quality, and these authors mentioned in passing that “social norms” might further
explain how interactions between managers and market researchers can facilitate
managers’ use of market research insights.
In summary, prior research in marketing has highlighted on the one hand the
importance of market research insights for managerial decision making, and on the
other hand emphasized the challenge in management to facilitate individuals’
acceptance of insights. However, to date research in marketing has put little attention
on gaining a better understanding of managers’ comfort zone regarding market
research insights. Seizing the assumption that market research insights can trigger
defensive behavior when insights clash with managers’ pet products, we continue our
literature review on the topic of behavioral research. Our aim is to gain a better
understanding of the psychological mechanism and eventually identify ways to
overcome a potential defense bias against market research insights. For the latter
purpose, we refer to prior research emphasizing the role of interaction quality and
discuss specific social norms between managers and market researchers as a debiasing
contextual factor (section 2.4).
It is important that market
Survey-recall method: The most important factors are
researchers are less sanguine
about managerial reactions to
political acceptability of research
asked to recall the
results, exploratory purpose of
research, and the presentation and Finding ways to address
technical quality of research.
managers’ comfort zones can
Managers and researchers seem to
be crucial to the use of market
have perceptions directly in conflict research information.
with one another – e.g., researchers
tend to underrate the degree to
which their clients dislike being
taken by surprise.
One survey with
(n = 90)
Survey-recall method: The most important factors are
A high quality of personal
organizational structure, technical
interaction between managers
quality, surprise, actionability, and
and researchers can create
asked to recall the
trust in the research results.
completed marketing Surprise serves as a “reality test”
Generating a large array of
for managers to decide whether or
possible research outcomes
not to use research results.
prior to the conduct of the
High quality enhances use partly by research should broaden a
managers’ comfort zone to
lowering the level of surprise.
Organizations should allow
Survey-recall method: Managers in more decentralized
organizations are more likely to use managers to operate in
research information than managers reasonably flexible task
asked to recall the
in more highly structured firms.
managers’ involvement in the
completed marketing Managers tend to utilize research
research process in order to
more when they are in control of
enhance the efficient use of
decision making and have to bear
market research information.
One survey with
(n = 86) and market
researchers (n =
90) in consumer
Which organizational One survey with
forms affect the
managers (n = 92)
Deshpande Which factors affect
and Zaltman managers’ use of
Deshpande Which factors affect
and Zaltman managers’ use of
Table 2: Empirical Studies on Market Research in Marketing Management
Participants perform a The more experienced managers differ Unprogrammed decision
making can be improved by onfrom their less experienced colleagues
on the less programmed (new product) the-job training or learning by
decision by rating more information as doing.
and a new product
(unprogrammed) tasks useful.
in a consumer market
from a single
division of a
company (n = 15)
information use and
Organizations need to take
steps to compensate for the
shortcomings. For example,
when managers request
research, they should sign a
statement of agreement that the
proper research questions are
asked and that the method
proposed is an acceptable
approach for the problem.
In-basket simulation: Subjects’ prior beliefs affect their
evaluations and use of both
quantitative and qualitative studies.
asked to select
commercials for a
However, qualitative studies have a
greater effect on subjects’ belief
of the Campbell Soup perseverance than quantitative survey
canned fruit juice
(n = 117)
How do decision
makers evaluate and
Survey-recall method: Surprise in the research findings is less Because industrial managers
negative related to use of information
have much greater amount of
among industrial than consumer
direct customer contact they
asked to recall the
appreciate a greater
exploratory nature of
completed marketing Research conducted for exploratory
information collection which
purposes is positively associated with
information use in industrial firms, but leads to greater information
negative associated in consumer firms. advantage.
While informal organizations foster the However, market researchers
need to carefully address
use of information in consumer firms,
managers responds to
formalization of structure facilitates
surprising results to consumer
the use of information in industrial
as well as industrial firms.
One survey with
(n = 201)
Deshpande Which factors affect
and Zaltman managers’ use of
information from the
in industrial markets
Table 2: Empirical Studies on Market Research in Marketing Management
Participants were asked Decision makers use heuristics to
guideline should be
to allocate an advertising make data-based inferences which
cause biased decisions.
appropriate for business
budget across three
decisions. For instance,
media (newspaper, radio, Graphical formats compared to data
market researchers should
presented in tables do not reduce
always present some
statistical model when
Neither real-world experience nor
displaying multivariate data
explicit training can reduce heuristicas a linear regression.
biases in databased allocation
(n1 = 246,
n2 = 2013,
n3 = 160)
Continue/stop decisions on
new product launch should
be made by someone with no
prior beliefs about the
Organizations should accept
decision makers' biased
behavior, and setup policies
and procedures that minimize
the escalation bias.
Participants were asked The driving force behind escalation
behavior is rather a biased belief
to make a decision on
launching a new product updating that outweighs initial
positive beliefs than an involvement
with the initial decision.
Managers use information
improperly when initial positive
beliefs about the viability of the
product launch clash with negative
with full and
(n = 142)
What is the
in the context
It is important that market
researchers know how to
keep the relationship trustful,
and manage decision makers'
Trust should have stronger
effects when users are unable
to evaluate research on some
The effect of trust on use of
marketing managerinformation is achieved primarily
through critical indirect effects on
quality of user-researcher
interactions (key variable).
marketing managerexternal marketing
Involvement and commitment of
market researchers have few
marketing researchermeasurable effects on the processes
of research relationships.
researcher, and internal
Trust becomes more important in
nonmarketing managerinter- than intraorganizational
well as internal
(n = 779)
How does trust
Deshpande and in userZaltman 1992 researcher
affects the use
Table 2: Empirical Studies on Market Research in Marketing Management
2.2 Influence of Identity on Decision Behavior
Linking the previously discussed concern about managers’ pet products to research on
identity provides important indications to understand managers’ biased behavior
against market research insights. Consider the case of a manager who strongly
identifies with running, and who trains and takes part in running contests in her/his
free time. Imagine that s/he works for a company selling various types of sport gear.
Naturally, our manager should wish for the company’s strategic running market to
flourish, because this is compatible with her/his identity and s/he might feel competent
being able to contribute her/his expertise to this domain. However, as with any person,
a manager’s individual identity can create strong beliefs that might clash with facts at
Identity research found that people’s judgments are relatively one-sided when they
view an issue from the perspective of a single identity and, more revealing, this way of
thinking creates “sticky” beliefs (Bolton and Reed 2004; Bolton 2003). Once people
derive their beliefs based on a salient and strong identity, Bolton and Reed (2004)
demonstrated that various corrective procedures – e.g., analytical thinking and
counteridentification – have little impact upon people’s identity-based judgments.
Emphasizing the occurrence of sticky priors in management, research cautioned that
“identity-driven thinking may lead to biased perceptions and expectations of customers
and competitors, leading to overconfident predictions of marketplace success” (Bolton
and Reed 2004, p. 408). Thus, prior research indicates a serious concern about the
consequences when identity-driven thinking influences managers’ decision-making
In general, the self embodies many identities, and any category can be “an identity as
soon as it becomes sufficiently central to a person’s self-concept that he or she starts
striving to ‘be’ that type of person” (Reed, Forehand, Puntoni, and Warlop 2012,
p. 319). Every identity has its own collection of attitudes, beliefs, behavior, values
and – as recently demonstrated – emotions (Coleman and Williams 2013). Although
managers might see themselves as rational decision makers when they form their
professional opinions, other parts of their self-concept – like the identity as an avid
runner – can become salient and dominate the decision-making process (e.g., Bolton
and Reed 2004; Reed 2004). In this case, people tend to make decision congruent with
the dominant identity, although those decision outcomes can be incompatible with
their other identities (LeBoeuf, Shafir, and Bayuk 2010).
An identity-associated domain – such as the running market in our example – can be
viewed as an extension of the self (e.g., Belk 1988). Thus, information threatening this
domain directly affects the self. Feelings of threat increase as a function of
identification strength, i.e., the extent to which an identity is central to a person’s selfconcept (Dalton and Huang 2014; Reed et al. 2012; Bolton and Reed 2004). In this
regard, our manager with the valued identity as a runner might perceive market
research insights as a threat to the self when those insights clash with the selfassociated running market. How will s/he react to “self-threatening” market research
2.3 Defensive Behavior in Self-Affirmation Theory
Individuals confronted by negative information associated with aspects of the self have
long been known to use defense mechanisms (e.g., Freud 1946; Steele 1988; Cramer
2000), particularly when they feel that a central aspect of the self is threatened (e.g.,
Puntoni, Sweldens, and Tavassoli 2011; Dalton and Huang 2014). People may mitigate
the emotional consequences of adversity resulting from a threat by e.g., denying,
rationalizing, or misinterpreting the threatening information (Cramer 1998). For
instance, Puntoni, Sweldens, and Tavassoli (2011) demonstrated that even information
on important preventive medical checkups can fail to improve people’s behavior when
it (unintentionally) threatens a person’s valued identity. In their study, breast cancer
advertisements threatened women’s gender identity when those ads highlighted female
cues (e.g., a pink ribbon). As a result, women unaware of their innate defense
mechanisms showed, for example, a decreased ad memory and indicated a lower
perception of vulnerability to breast cancer. In contrast, when women received
beforehand a common self-affirmation prime boosting their sense of self-worth, they
were able to face the self-threatening information with an unbiased perception of their
vulnerability to breast cancer (Puntoni, Sweldens, and Tavassoli 2011, experiment 3a).
In this regard, the study on breast cancer advertisements is related to a well-established
research stream on the theory of self-affirmation (see also Sherman and Cohen 2006
for a comprehensive overview).
Claude Steele (1988) first introduced the theory of self-affirmation with the notion that
people “regulate their defense adaptations to maintain very general conceptions of
self-integrity rather than to remedy specific threats” (p. 289). Self-affirmation theory
contends that in order to maintain a sense of self-integrity, people utilize two distinct
mental strategies to neutralize self-threats (cf. Steele 1988; Sherman and Cohen 2006).
First, defense mechanisms include any kind of behavior that directly shields the self
from threats, i.e., from unpleasant reality. For instance, in the study on breast cancer
advertisements, threatened women barely remembered the self-threatening ads
(Puntoni, Sweldens, and Tavassoli 2011). This common psychological defense
mechanism called “motivated forgetting” is the tendency to suppress threatening
memories from consciousness (Dalton and Huang 2014). As studies in the healthcare
context demonstrate, defense mechanisms can effectively protect the self in the short
term but can become self-defeating and eventually put the individual at risk over the
long term (e.g., Reed and Aspinwall 1998; Sherman, Nelson, and Steele 2000; Klein
and Harris 2009; Klein, Harris, Ferrer, and Zajac 2011; Puntoni, Sweldens, and
Tavassoli 2011). That is because defense mechanisms maintain a sense of selfintegrity but do not intent to manage or solve the real problem (Cramer 1998).
The second mental strategy is an indirect psychological adaptation aiming to maintain
a global sense of self-integrity in the moment of threat. The self-affirmation strategy
depends on the “flexibility of the self,” that is, the ability of the self to shore up one
component of a person’s self-concept in order to buttress other components against
threats (Steele 1988). Figure 2 illustrates a schematic of the self-system – it consists of
different identity domains, i.e., different potential sources of self-affirmation (Sherman
and Cohen 2006). More specifically, affirming a part of the self-concept unaffected by
the threat enables people to process self-threatening information even-handedly and
encourages behavioral adaption (Steele 1988; Sherman and Cohen 2006). For instance,
in the study on breast cancer advertisements, an established self-affirmation
intervention boosted women’s sense of self-integrity by reminding them of their own
kindness. For this purpose, women were asked to write about a situation in which they
helped a friend at the expense of their own happiness (Puntoni, Sweldens, and
Tavassoli 2011, experiment 3a). Thus threats challenging one part of their life (e.g.,
failing in an exam) are better assimilated when people can affirm the self in other
equally valued domains (e.g., winning a sports contest).
Figure 2: Schematic Representation of Self‐System
(Source: Sherman and Cohen 2006, p. 188)
A systematic review of different self-affirmation interventions has been conducted by
McQueen and Klein (2006). Many experimental studies embed self-affirmation
interventions that aim to focus people’s attention on their personal core values (e.g.,
Sherman, Nelson, and Steele 2000; Cohen, Sherman, Bastardi, Hsu, McGoey, and
Ross 2007; Sivanathan and Pettit 2010). Researchers have argued that reflecting on
personal core values enables people to see self-threats in the context of a bigger picture
(Schmeichel and Vohs 2009; Wakslak and Trope 2009). In particular, Wakslak and
Trope (2009) suggested that self-affirmation interventions can attenuate defensive
behavior by allowing people to “distinguish between urgent gratifications (e.g., being
right or winning a debate) and more important and defining long-term goals (e.g.,
learning or achieving pragmatic compromise)” (p. 931). Other recent research has
emphasized that activities appearing initially as distractions and procrastination might
constitute people’s natural strategy to maintain self-integrity. For instance, Sivanathan
and Pettit (2010) showed that when people fail in one part of their life (receiving
negative feedback on a test) they tend to seek ownership of status-infused products in
order to restore their general sense of self-worth. Similarly suggesting that aesthetics is
an important personal value, Townsend and Sood (2012) demonstrated that
consumers’ choice of highly aesthetic products had the same positive influence on
peoples’ openness to counter-attitudinal arguments as a common self-affirmation
intervention. Further, a study on Facebook use as a self-affirmation resource found that
people preferred to browse their own Facebook profile after experiencing a self-threat
rather than, e.g., watching YouTube videos or reading online news (Toma and
In general, the “psychological immune system” operates most effectively when
behavioral strategies addressing self-threats operate automatically – when we are
unaware rather than deliberately reacting (cf. Gilbert, Pinel, Wilson, Blumberg, and
Wheatley 1998; Cramer 2000). In fact, the positive impact of self-affirmation
inventions was found to diminish when people are aware of a potential link between a
self-affirmation prime and their processing of self-threatening information (Sherman et
al. 2009). Prior research has further emphasized that self-affirmation interventions can
even backfire if they are not carefully designed (Sherman and Cohen 2006). For
instance, Sivanathan and colleagues investigated the “promise and peril of selfaffirmation” in the context of an escalation of commitment bias, whereby people
overly reinvested in a failed project that they had previously promoted (Sivanathan,
Molden, Galinsky, and Ku 2008). This biased behavior was even amplified when
participants received affirming feedback about their general decision-making ability.
In contrast, participants who received positive feedback about their creativity skills
made unbiased decisions and invested less in the failed project (Sivanathan et al. 2008,
Study 3). Thus, self-affirmation in an unrelated domain can offset defense
mechanisms, but self-affirmation in the same domain can actually backfire, that is,
trigger (even more) defensive reactions (Sherman and Cohen 2006; Sivanathan et al.
In conclusion, people frequently experience negative information as a threat to their
valued identities, for instance, regarding their gender (e.g., Puntoni, Sweldens, and
Tavassoli 2011), their political identity (e.g., Cohen et al. 2007), and their general
social groups (e.g., Dalton and Huang 2014). According to self-affirmation theory,
people’s defense mechanisms help them maintain a sense of self-integrity (Steele
1988; Sherman and Cohen 2006). Sherman and Cohen (2006) emphasized that the
self-integrity motive is so pervasive that even mundane events can threaten the self
and instigate defensive responses. Linking self-affirmation theory to our previously
drawn example, we propose that our manager with the valued identity as a runner will
respond defensively to market research insights when those insights clash with the
self-associated running market. Although s/he might intend to look at data objectively,
self-threatening market research insights trigger a defense mechanism, a process that
managers themselves are unaware of. Since a “hallmark property of defensive
reactions is their potential to be offset by self-affirmation” (Puntoni, Sweldens, and
Tavassoli 2011, p. 419), we further propose that an unrelated self-affirmation
intervention would limit managers’ discomfort with self-threatening market research
insights if a defense mechanism indeed causes their decision making against market
Besides the experimental use of self-affirmation interventions for proofing defense
mechanisms, the question remains as to whether self-affirmation interventions
represent an adequate debiasing technique for management. In general, it seems hardly
practical for organizations to provide self-affirmation in an unrelated domain to their
managers every time they process potentially ego-threatening market data. Recent
research showed that self-affirmation effects can be enduring (Harris and Napper
2005; Cohen, Garcia, Purdie-Vaughns, Apfel, and Brzustoski 2009; Sherman, Hartson,
Binning, Purdie-Vaughns, Garcia, Taborsky-Barba, Tomassetti, Nussbaum, and Cohen
2013); however, evidence for long-term effects is still limited. Hence, a further
integral part of this dissertation involves the investigation of a contextual factor in
organizations that could mitigate managers’ defensive reaction to self-threatening
market research insights: the salient relationship norms between managers and market
2.4 Critical Role of Relationship Norms
Organizational information process has been referred to as a fundamental “people
process” (Moorman 1995). Accordingly, the interpersonal interaction between
managers and market researchers matters in regard to managers’ use of market
research insights (Deshpande and Zaltman 1982; Brennan 2000). Prior research in
marketing has mentioned in passing that social norms could have an important
influence on the quality of interaction between managers and market researchers
(Moorman, Zaltman, and Deshpande 1992). Furthermore, research on self-affirmation
theory has emphasized that social norms can focus people’s attention on salient
demands beyond ego protection (Sherman and Cohen 2006). However, there is no
evidence for a link between social norms and the use of market research insights, nor
between social norms and people’s defensive reactions against self-threatening
information. Therefore, we aim to shed light on managers’ defensive behavior against
self-threatening market research insights under different norms guiding the interaction
between managers and market researchers.
Prior research has documented the relevance of distinguishing two kinds of
relationships that follow different norms governing the giving and receiving of
benefits: exchange and communal relationships (e.g., Clark and Mills 1993, 2011;
Aggarwal 2004; Aggarwal and Law 2005; Aggarwal and Zhang 2006; Wan, Hui, and
Wyer 2011). In both relationship types, benefits are broadly defined as “something that
one person gives to another which is of use to the person receiving it” (Clark and Mills
1993, p. 687). In an exchange relationship, the parties involved understand that the
interaction is tit-for-tat, that is, one benefit is given in return for another benefit. More
precisely, partners expect to exchange comparable benefits, such as a prompt monetary
payment for a benefit received. Thus, following exchange norms, “giving a benefit
creates a specific debt, and a return benefit that is directly comparable eliminates this
debt owed by the exchange partner” (Aggarwal 2004, p. 93). For instance, when
people trade goods in an economic market, exchange norms normally guide the
interpersonal interaction. In contrast, receiving a benefit from a communal relationship
partner does not create the obligation to return a comparable benefit. When people
follow communal norms in their interpersonal interaction, they give benefits in
response to needs or to demonstrate a general concern for a person’s well-being.
Although communal relationship partners reward and support each other with benefits
over time, a quid pro quo exchange of benefits would by definition violate communal
norms. Following communal norms, for instance, people remove the price tag from a
gift, emphasizing that the value of their relationship is beyond the exchange of strictly
comparable benefits (e.g., Clark and Mills 1993, 2011; Aggarwal 2004). Table 3
contrasts some norms of exchange and communal relationships.
Clark and Mills (1993) explained in detail the concept of communal versus exchange
norms and distinguished it from other concepts. Importantly, Clark and Mills (1993)
argued that people do not switch automatically from exchange to communal norms for
the purpose of building a continuing relationship. When interaction partners strive for
long-term relationships, they should be particularly motivated to fulfill their own
obligations independent of whether these obligations are driven by exchange or
communal norms. Furthermore, people might generally tend to temper self-interest
under communal norms and promote self-interest under exchange norms (e.g., Wan,
Hui, and Wyer 2011). However, Clark and Mills (1993) highlighted that the
“communal/exchange distinction is also different from a distinction between altruistic
and selfish relationships” (p. 686) because in both pairs of relationships a self-serving
person can use relationship norms to exploit the other. In general, a deviation from
salient relationship norms violates people’s expectations and triggers negative
reactions (e.g., Aggarwal 2004).
Table 3: Norms of Exchange and Communal Relationships
(Source: Aggarwal 2004, p. 89)
Exchange relationship norms
Communal relationship norms
Accepting help with money is preferred to no
Accepting help with no monetary payment is
Desirable to give comparable benefits in return
for benefits received.
Less desirable to give comparable benefits in
return for benefits received.
Prompt repayment for specific benefits received
Prompt repayment for specific benefits received
is not expected.
More likely to ask for repayments for benefits
Less likely to ask for repayments for benefits
More likely to keep track of inputs and
outcomes in a joint task.
Less likely to keep track of individual inputs
and outcomes in a joint task.
Divide rewards according to each person’s
inputs and contributions.
Divide rewards according to each person’s
needs and requirements.
Helping others is less likely.
Helping others is more likely.
Requesting help from others is less likely.
Requesting help from others is more likely.
Keeping track of others’ needs is less likely.
Keeping track of others’ needs is more likely.
Less responsive to others’ emotional states.
More responsive to others’ emotional states.
Prior research has traditionally associated communal norms with close relationships
and categorized business relationships as being typically based on exchange norms
(e.g., Clark and Mills 1993). How does the determination of communal relationship
norms then fit a business context such as the interaction between managers and market
researchers? In line with prior research, we argue that exchange norms do not
characterize all business interactions – far from it. Research in marketing has
previously used the communal/exchange distinction to investigate business-toconsumer interactions (Aggarwal 2004; Aggarwal and Law 2005; Wan, Hui, and Wyer
2011) and buyer-seller interactions (Aggarwal and Zhang 2006). Table 4 presents an
overview of studies in marketing research manipulating relationship norms in those
business contexts. When people frequently work with each other, they may use
communal as well as exchange relationship norms depended on which norms happens
to be salient in the current situation. Wan, Hui, and Wyer (2011) emphasize that “it
can be influenced by the intensity of the friendship, the situational context in which the
individuals interact, and the social roles that they occupy in this situation” (p. 261).
The salience of norms can also vary according to the nature of the benefits (Pillutla
and Chen 1999). Market research insights are traditionally defined as benefits “for the
purpose of assisting management in decision making” (Malhotra 2002). Because of the
“assisting” character of market research, it seems conceivable that communal norms
guide to some degree the interaction between managers and market researchers.
Market researchers might feel the obligation to track decision makers’ needs in order
to assist and support managers’ decision-making processes as well as possible.
Accordingly, managers might expect such insightful support from their market
researchers rather than a tit-for-tat exchange of insights for money. Therefore, we
conclude that both communal and exchange norms can basically guide the interaction
between managers and market researchers.
Can relationships norms between managers and market researchers influence how
managers process threatening market research insights? Aggarwal and Law (2005)
demonstrated that people’s attention to information differs according to whether
communal or exchange norms are salient in the moment of information-processing. In
a consumer-brand context, people primed with communal norms evaluated
information at a higher level of abstraction relative to those primed with exchange
norms (Aggarwal and Law 2005). Similar, Wakslak and Trope (2009) found that
people evaluate an issue with abstract rather than concrete thinking when provided
with self-affirmation leading to less defensive behavior. These findings can support the
assumption that both communal norms and self-affirmation interventions could trigger
similar behavioral adaptions to self-threatening information. In fact, reminding people
of the kindness and support of their close relationships has been shown to be an
effective self-affirmation intervention and to prevent defense mechanisms (Sherman
and Cohen 2006). Thinking about a communal relationship might mitigate defensive
behavior when this relationship is unrelated to the threat. In our case, however, the
interaction between managers and market researchers is directly related to market
research insights, and thus to the threat when insights clash with managers’ selfassociated domains. In section 2.3 we discussed that related self-affirmation
interventions can backfire (e.g., Sherman and Cohen 2006; Sivanathan et al. 2008).
Hence, managers’ defense mechanisms might particularly kick in when managers are
in a communal relationship with their market researcher, presumably because
expectations governed by communal relationship norms might contradict receiving
threatening market research insights.
Furthermore, in communal relationships people’s self is more exposed to potential
threats. Previous research had demonstrated how fragile communal relationships in a
business environment can turn out. For instance, Wan, Hui, and Wyer (2011)
investigated consumers’ reaction to service failures and found that communal
compared to exchange relationships can amplify consumers’ negative reactions under
certain circumstance. Because people expect support from each other in communal
relationships, a service failure or threatening information can violate those
expectations invoking feelings of betrayal (cf. Wan, Hui, and Wyer 2011). Market
research insights that clash with the self-associated domain can thus appear as a
violation of communal relationship norms between managers and market researchers.
In contrast, the neglect of personal support beyond a tit-for-tat interaction is not a
violation of exchange relationships norms. Because an exchange relationship between
managers and market researchers is primarily impersonal and benefits are perceived as
objective (e.g., Wan, Hui, and Wyer 2011), a personal reaction to the market research
insights by managers should be less likely. Further, partners in exchange interactions
focus on information details to track the balance of inputs and outputs (Aggarwal and
Law 2005). Thus, an exchange interaction should focus managers’ attention on the
actual benefits of market research insights beyond ego protection.
In sum, we propose that relationship norms between managers and market researchers
present an important contextual factor when market research insights clash with
managers’ self-associated domains: while a communal relationship should favor
managers’ defensive behavior, an exchange relationship should mitigate it.
Do violation of
consumers evaluate a
firm's action and
(n1 = 64,
n2 = 56,
n3 = 114)
(n1 = 65,
n2 = 94,
n3 = 95)
Aggarwal and Do communal
compared to exchange (n = 98)
relationship norms lead
to a greater degree of
Aggarwal and Do communal
relationship norms lead
to brand attributes
being evaluated at a
higher level of
abstraction relative to
those of exchange
Communal norms increase people’s
degree of loss aversion as revealed by
the higher selling prices.
Exchange norms do not have the same
mitigating effect on an endowment bias
as exchange items.
Differences in the buying prices across
the different conditions were not found,
suggesting that communal norms do not
merely lead to a higher overall valuation
of a product.
A typical endowment
effect experiment with
the role of buyers or
A brief scenario
description of a social
situation unrelated to the
A firm’s action that is in violation of a
relationship norm leads to negative
reactions by the consumers.
Consumers’ negative responses to
violations of relationship norms are not
limited to the specific action but are
extended to their brand evaluations.
Relationship norms moderate
information-processing consumers’ information-processing.
(evaluations, recall and Communal norms lead consumers to
recognition, and selfevaluate brands at a more holistic level.
generated features) in
Exchange relationships lead consumers
to evaluate brands in an item-specific
clothing store launch,
and pen purchase)
to a marketing action
and overall brand
A brief scenario
description of a social
situation unrelated to the
investigated business-toconsumer interaction
(study 1 and 2) or related
to the business-toconsumer interaction
A brief scenario
description of a social
situation related to the
Table 4: Exchange and Communal Relationship Norms in Marketing Research
(n1 = 96,
n2 = 100,
n3 = 132,
n4 = 192)
Do different relationship
norms mitigate the
negative feelings that
consumers experience as
the result of a service
(n1 = 84,
n2 = 156)
and Larrick relationship norms
compared to exchange
relationship norms lead
to greater interactional
fairness under conditions
of low distributive
fairness, and is this
pattern reversed under
conditions of high
Friendship does not always mitigate
negative reactions to a service failure.
When consumers focus on the provider’s
obligation to respond to their needs, they
react negatively to a service failure when
communal relationship norms are salient.
The reverse is true, when their attention is
drawn to their own obligations in the
Inducing consumers to consider themselves
as interdependent increased their sensitivity
to communal relationship norms and thus
increased the intensity of their reactions to
a service failure.
When faced with low distributive fairness,
evaluation of a firm’s
consumers in a communal relationship are
service center and
more responsive to issues of interactional
fairness than are those in an exchange
(fulfilled promises, met Consumers in an exchange relationship are
more sensitive to interactional fairness
under conditions of high rather than low
A brief scenario
to a service failure
description of a social
situation related to the
investigated business-toconsumer interaction.
A brief scenario
description of a social
situation related to the
investigated business-toconsumer interaction
Table 4: Communal and Exchange Relationship Norms in Marketing Research
2.5 Conceptual Framework and Hypotheses
We have highlighted in detail literature from various research streams linking
nonproven criticism of managers’ defensive behavior against market research insights
to behavioral research, particularly on identity, self-affirmation theory, and
relationship norms. The purpose of this section is to formulate our hypotheses by
summing up the previously discussed literature, and to present our conceptualization
for the following empirical part of the dissertation.
This dissertation aims to shed light on managers’ defensive reactions against market
research insights. Previous research in marketing management found that a manager’s
comfort zone determines the use of market research insights, emphasizing that
surprising insights are hardly appreciated regardless of decision relevance and
technical quality of those insights. In particular, research has determined that managers
would most likely react defensively when market research insights clash with
managers’ pet products (e.g., Deshpande and Zaltman 1982; 1984). Linking this issue
to identity research, we are able to explain managers’ defensive reactions against
market research insights. In this context, we draw on a situation in which managers
strongly identify with a product or market, and they view this domain as a central
aspect of their self-concept. Prior research has found that people in general are most
perseverance in their judgments when they view an issue from a salient identity, noting
that identity-driven thinking may also lead to biased managerial decisions (Bolton and
Reed 2004). Ideally market research insights should neutralize identity-effects among
managers, focusing managerial attention upon the salient demands of their customers
and markets. However, we propose that when market research insights clash with
managers’ self-associated domain, they experience those insights as a threat to their
valued identity. Self-threatening information ordinarily triggers defense mechanisms
(e.g., Steele 1998; Sherman and Cohen 2006). Feelings of threat can increase as a
function of identification strength (Dalton and Huang 2014; Steele 1988).
Accordingly, we propose that managers’ defensive reactions increase as a function of
strength of identification; and as a result, they are more tempted to make decisions
against market research insights that clash with their self-associated domain. We refer
to managers’ tendency to interpret self-threatening market research insights in a way
that leads to defensive decisions against those insights as the facts-be-damned bias. As
such, it is a type of confirmation bias rooted in a general tendency to interpret
information in a way that confirms one’s preconceptions, potentially leading to
irrational judgments and decisions (Nickerson 1998). Formally, we hypothesize:
Managers display the facts-be-damned bias: As a function of
identification strength, managers make decisions against market research
insights when those insights threaten a self-associated domain.
According to self-affirmation theory, defense mechanisms serve the ultimate purpose
of maintaining a sense of self-integrity, that is, experiencing the self as a good and
appropriate person (Steele 1988; Sherman and Cohen 2006). Defense mechanisms can
protect the self from threats in the short term, but they also prevent people from
making informed and rational decisions (Sherman and Cohen 2006). In contrast, selfaffirmation interventions enable people to integrate self-threatening information in a
constructive way. In line with prior research, we propose that an established selfaffirmation intervention should mitigate the facts-be-damned bias if a defense
mechanism against self-threats cause managers’ decisions against market research
insights (Puntoni, Sweldens, and Tavassoli 2011). Hence, we propose:
A defense mechanism causes the facts-be-damned bias: when managers
display the facts-be-damned bias, self-affirmation in unrelated tasks can
turn its effect off.
An effective self-affirmation intervention not only constitutes a hallmark property of
defense mechanisms (e.g., Puntoni, Sweldens, and Tavassoli 2011), it also suggests
that managers are relatively unaware of their biased behavior in the moment of its
occurrence (e.g., Sherman et al. 2009; Cramer 2000). Hence, knowing that a facts-bedamned bias exists would hardly prevent managers from making decisions against
market research insights (Kahneman, Lovallo, and Sibony 2011). However, an integral
part of this dissertation is the investigation of a contextual factor that organizations
could influence in order to mitigate managers’ facts-be-damned biased behavior.
We propose that relationship norms between managers and market researchers can
moderate the facts-be-damned bias. In communal relationships, people support each
other, and benefits are given to serve the other’s needs (e.g., Clark and Mills 1993;
Aggarwal 2004). Managers might perceive a violation of those communal relationship
norms, when market research insights clash with managers’ self-associated domains.
Because communal relationships can expose people to self-threats, communal norms
between managers and market researchers should constitute a breeding ground for the
facts-be-damned bias. In contrast, partners in exchange relationships do not have the
obligation to support and give benefits according to the other’s needs (e.g., Clark and
Mills 1993; Aggarwal 2004). Because interactions under exchange norms are
relatively impersonal, an exchange relationship with market researchers should
mitigate managers’ defensive reactions against market research insights. Further,
following a quid pro quo strategy, people precisely track the value of a received
benefit in exchange relationships (Aggarwal and Law 2005). Thus, we propose that
exchange norms might even draw off managers’ attention from self-threatening
elements toward the actual benefits of market research insights. Therefore, we
formulate the following hypothesis:
The relationship between managers and market researchers influences
the occurrence of the facts-be-damned bias: communal relationship
norms favor the facts-be-damned bias, whereas exchange relationship
norms mitigate it.
In order to test our three hypotheses, we present three experimental studies in the
following empirical part of this dissertation. We draw the experimental storyline of our
previously discussed example of the manager working for a sports company who is an
avid runner. In this context, we created a business case study about a fictitious
manufacturer of sporting goods in the business-to-consumer environment.
3 Study 1: Contextual Factors of the Facts-Be-Damned Bias
Although market research insights should ideally facilitate rational decision behavior
among managers, we propose that managers make decisions going against market
research insights when those insights represent a threat to managers’ self-associated
domain. Testing H1, managers’ task was to allocate a specific amount of sponsoring
budget between the running and golf divisions of our fictitious sports company, after
they had received relevant market research insights. Spending on sponsoring activities,
particularly on sport sponsorship, represents an important aspect of many firms’
overall marketing strategy (cf. Rogers and Sexton 2012: in a survey with US
marketing managers, 90% indicated that sponsorships and events were one of their
marketing strategies). Hence, we assume that managers consider relevant market
research insights as generally important when they make strategic decisions on how to
allocate scarce sponsoring budget resources. Research on sport sponsorship has
emphasized that a profound understanding of consumers’ preferences increases the
value of sponsoring activities and becomes particularly important when marketing
managers have to evaluate different sponsoring alternatives (e.g., Speed and
Thompson 2000). However, Study 1 demonstrates that managers display the facts-bedamned bias when confronted with self-threatening market research insights.
We recruited marketing executives from a large alumni pool of a Central European
business school via email, inviting them to take part in two supposedly unrelated
online surveys. As an incentive to participate, executives read that they would be able
to receive a managerial summary of the study results, and enter a lottery for an amount
equivalent to EUR 30 at the end of the second study. Overall, 213 marketing
executives participated in our first study (173 men, 40 women; mean age = 43).
3.2.2 Procedure and Materials
Olymp Business Case Study
We introduced the first online survey as a business case study (as illustrated in Figure
3). Participants were asked to imagine being the head of marketing at Olymp SE, a
(fictitious) sports company. Participants read that Olymp SE mainly produces and sells
consumer goods serving two markets generating equal revenue: golf and running.
They also read that the company targets managers, because a recent report shows that
the two sports are managers’ favorites, preferred over other sports to the same extent.
Finally, we informed participants that they – in their role as the head of marketing at
Olymp SE – are asked to make a marketing management decision.
Figure 3: Introduction of the Business Case Study
In the next step, participants were presented with market research insights that were
either non-threatening or threatening to participants identifying with running. We
focused on running since a pretest showed that running is on average one of the panel
managers’ favorite sports, while golf is not (Pre-Test: Mrunning = 3.48 vs. Mgolf = 1.87,
t(96) = 7.152, p < .001, r2 = 0.35). Participants randomly assigned to the nonthreatening condition read that both markets – golf and running – are equally
promising on average, in terms of three key variables: (1) popularity of the sport
among managers (27% of managers rank the sport number 1 for both running and
golf), (2) predicted change in the number of target managers practicing regularly over
the next year, and (3) predicted change in target managers’ willingness to pay over the
next year. To exclude any effect caused by different weights being given to these
variables, we counterbalanced growth estimates across participants. In particular, half
of the participants read that the growth forecast was +2% for variable (2) and +9% for
variable (3) for running, and +9% for variable (2) and +2% for variable (3) for golf.
The other half of the participants read that the growth forecast was +9% for variable
(2) and +2% for variable (3) for running, and +2% for variable (2) and +9% for
variable (3) for golf.
In contrast, participants randomly assigned to the threatening condition read that the
running market was less attractive than the golf market, in terms of both predicted
change in the number of target managers practicing regularly, and predicted change in
willingness to pay. For both variables, growth was reported at + 2% for running versus
+ 9% for golf. According to the overall story, the current popularity of the two sports
remained the same as in the non-threatening condition. Figure 4 illustrates the market
research report of the threatening condition.
After they were exposed to the market research insights, participants were asked to
allocate the equivalent of EUR 100,000 of the company’s sponsoring budget to the
running versus golf business divisions (see Figure 5). The total amount was to be spent
on the two sports. Therefore, a higher budget allocated for running corresponds to a
lower budget for golf, and vice versa.
Figure 4: Manipulation of the Threatening Market Research Insights
Figure 5: Decision Task – Allocation of Sponsoring Budget
Work-Life Balance Study
After completing the business case study, participants were introduced to a second
online survey about work-life balance. The primary purpose of this study was to
measure participants’ strength of identification with running. Participants were asked
to indicate the degree to which they identified with four sports – running (M = 3.39,
SD = 1.70), golf (M = 1.89, SD = 1.52), tennis (M = 2.41, SD = 1.70), and indoor
fitness (M = 3.29, SD = 1.88) – using a seven-point scale ranging from 1 (far apart) to
7 (complete overlap). For each point on the scale we used different overlaps of two
circles, one circle representing the target sport (e.g., “running”) and another circle the
participant (“me”) (cf. Aron, Aron, and Smollan 1992; Vallerand, Blanchard, Mageau,
Koestner, Ratell, Léonard, Gagne, and Marsolais 2003). For example, Figure 6
illustrates our measure for strength of identification with running. Questions regarding
identification with tennis and indoor fitness were intended as filler tasks so that
participants did not realize a connection between the two studies. For the same reason,
they further answered a few questions about how leisure activities generally help them
cope with work-related stress.
After finishing the second survey, participants were additionally prompted about the
purpose of both surveys in an open-ended question. Finally, they were able to sign up
for the management summary as well as the lottery, before we thanked them for their
Figure 6: Measure of Strength of Identification with Running
Overall, the average sponsoring budget allocated to running (Budget Running) was
significantly lower when participants were exposed to the market research report
indicating that the running market is as less attractive than the golf market
(M = 35,651.79, SD = 27,655.43) compared to the other condition when participants
were exposed to the market research report indicating that both markets are equally
attractive (M = 56,138.61, SD = 29,050.66) (t(211) = -5.27, p < .001, r2 = .12). Hence,
we can conclude that participants on average perceived the market research insights as
relevant for the budget allocation task.
We can confirm that on average participants’ strength of identification with golf was
relatively low in the sample, and significantly lower than their strength of
identification with running (MRunning = 3.39 vs. MGolf = 1.89, t(212) = 9.61,
p < .001, r2 = .30), as expected from our pre-test.
Regarding the open-ended question about the purpose of both surveys, we found that
no participant assumed a relationship between the two online surveys (business case
study and work-life balance study).
3.3.2 Moderated Regression Analysis
In order to test H1, we were interested in whether or not managers’ strength of
identification with running (RunningSOI) has an effect on Budget Running, depending
on our manipulation of the market research insights (MRI). Thus, we accordingly
formulated a moderated regression analysis with Budget Running as dependent
variable and RunningSOI and MRI as independent variables. Although managers’
strength of identification with golf (GolfSOI) was relatively low, we additionally
included this factor as a control variable in our regression model. We mean-centered
the two continuous variables, capturing managers’ strength of identification with
running and with golf (cf. Aiken and West 1991). Dummy-coding MRI allowed us to
directly compare the effects between the threatening condition (MRI = 0) and the nonthreatening condition (MRI = 1) (cf. Irwin and McClelland 2001; Cohen, Cohen,
West, and Aiken 2003; Spiller, Fitzsimons, Lynch, and McClelland 2013). Finally, we
calculated the corresponding interaction variable (Interaction = RunningSOIc x MRI)
and formulated the following moderated regression model:
(1) Budget Running = β0 + β1 RunningSOIc + β2 MRI + β3 Interaction + β4 GolfSOIc + ε,
with the simple slope ω1 = β1 for the threatening condition (MRI = 0), and
ω2 = β1+ β3 for the non-threatening condition (MRI = 1).
The coefficient of the interaction term represents the difference between the two
regression weights of RunningSOIc for the threatening and non-threatening conditions
[β3 = ω2 - ω1 = (β1 + β3) - β1]. Hence, if the results of our moderated regression
analysis indicate that the interaction is significant, then the two regression weights of
RunningSOIc are significantly different from each other. In this case, we can conclude
that MRI moderates the effect of RunningSOIc on Budget Running. In order to detect
the nature of the moderated relationship, we are then able to run simple slope analyses
testing whether the regression weight of RunningSOIc in the threatening (nonthreatening) condition is significantly different from zero (cf. Cohen et al. 2003).
Running our moderated regression (1), we first can confirm that residuals were
normally distributed. The results of our analysis revealed a significant interaction of
RunningSOIc x MRI (β3 = -5,109.88, t(208) = -2.25, p < .05, r2 = .02). A significant
interaction effect indicates that the simple slopes for each condition are significantly
different from each other, and thus we can run a simple slope analysis to locate the
nature of this interaction.
In support of H1, the results showed that managers allocated significantly more money
to running the more they identified with running, even when the market research
insights were threatening (ω1 = 4,526.05, t(208) = 2.95, p < .01, r2 = .04). In other
words, as a function of identification strength, managers made a decision going against
market research insights that threaten their self-associated domain. In contrast, when
insights were non-threatening, managers’ strength of identification with running had
no effect on their budget allocation (ω2 = -583.83, p = .726). Hence, managers
processed the non-threatening market research insights in an unbiased manner and
made rational decisions independent of their identity as a runner. Overall, the results
confirm that managers display the facts-be-damned bias, a bias that occurs when
managers experience market research insights as a self-threat.
All results of our moderated regression analysis in Study 1 are presented in Table 5.
Regarding the interpretation of our MRI coefficient β2, we refer to Irwin and
McClelland (2001), who criticize that many researchers talk about “main effect”
instead of “simple effect” in moderated regression. This is a common
misunderstanding “because this term refers to the simple relationship between the
dependent variable and an independent variable at a particular level of the other
independent variable(s)” (p. 102). Since we mean-centered strength of identification
with running, β2 represents the distance between the two simple slopes at the mean of
RunningSOI in the sample (M = 3.39). We found a significant simple effect of market
research insights at the mean of RunningSOI in the sample, such that managers
allocated statistically less money to running when market research insights were
threatening versus not (β2 = 19,787.41, t(208) = 5.16, p < .001, r2 = .11). This
conditional simple effect suggests that managers were still somewhat rational when
their identification strength with running was average. But can the facts-be-damned
bias become powerful to the point of neutralizing market research information that
threatens managers’ self-associated domains? In order to answer this question, we
additionally ran a floodlight analysis (Spiller et al. 2013; Johnson and Neyman 1936).
3.3.3 Floodlight Analysis
In regression with an interaction term, the test of simple effects of one variable at the
level of another (continuous) variable is referred to as a “spotlight” test because “they
shine the spotlight” (Spiller et al. 2013) on, e.g., the effect of market research insights
on Budget Running at a particular value of managers’ strength of identification with
running. Although it is common in marketing research to conduct spotlight tests at plus
and minus one standard deviation from the mean (cf. Aiken and West 1991), Spiller et
al. (2013) recently emphasized that researchers should use spotlight tests only if
meaningful focal values for the continuous variable exist (e.g., commonly agreed
cutoffs). Otherwise, the appropriate approach is to conduct a “floodlight analysis”
(Spiller et al. 2013). Johnson and Neyman (1936) first introduced the corresponding
statistical concept, which investigates the entire range of a continuous variable,
detecting where the simple effect is significant and where it is not. Picking up this 80year-old technique and aiming to promote it for research in marketing, Spiller et al.
(2013) coined it “floodlight analysis” because “a floodlight shines on the range of
values of the continuous predictor X for which the group differences are statistically
significant” (p. 282). Basically, the Johnson-Neyman point represents the border at
which the p-value in a spotlight analysis would be exactly .05 (e.g., Johnson and
Neyman 1936; Spiller et al. 2013).
We conducted a floodlight analysis using the SPSS macro PROCESS (Hayes and
Matthes 2009). Results revealed a threshold at 5.15 on the 1-7 scale of identification
with running (or 1.76 for RunningSOIc). This suggests that the difference between our
two simple slopes becomes non-significant as of only moderately high values of
identification with running. Hence, from this point on the effect of providing managers
with market research insights equates to zero because managers allocate a statistically
equivalent budget to running regardless of the market research insights. Since we
already proved that managers’ decisions in the threatening condition were biased,
while managers’ decisions in the non-threatening condition were not, we conclude the
following: managers exposed to the threatening market research insights pushed back
against those insights to such a large extent that they ended up making a decision as
though they had been exposed to non-threatening insights. In other words, the facts-bedamned bias can indeed become powerful to the point of neutralizing market research
information that threatens managers’ self-associated domains. Hence, results of the
floodlight analysis further support the claim that mangers display the facts-be-damned
bias when insights threaten a self-associated domain. The results also provide initial
evidence for an ego-defense to be the mechanism for the facts-be-damned bias (H2),
because managers tended to restore their positive image of the running domain to the
point of neutralizing the threatening insights. Figure 7 illustrates the two simple slopes
of our moderated regression as well as the Johnson-Neyman point.
Figure 7: Simple Slopes of Study 1 – Allocation of Sponsoring Budget
Table 5: Moderated Regression Results of Study 1 – Budget Running
RunningSOIc: Threatening Condition
ω1 = β1
RunningSOIc: Non-Threatening Condition ω2 = β1+ β3
Market Research Insights
Study 1 showed that the facts-be-damned bias presents a behavioral bias amidst
seemingly rational decision makers. When market research insights were nonthreatening – the markets for running and golf appeared to be equally attractive –
managers made unbiased decisions and allocated a reasonable amount of sponsoring
budget to running. Importantly, managers’ identification strength with running did not
affect their decisions in this case. Hence, the non-threatening market research insights
seemed to prevent managers from letting their personal preference color their
decisions. But the tide turned when market research insights contained self-threatening
elements: managers identifying with the market they are working on used those
insights provided to them in a pernicious way.
In line with H1, the results provide support for the facts-be-damned bias. In the
threatening condition, managers allocated increasingly more budget to running the
more they identified with running. Feelings of threat increase as a function of
identification strength (Dalton and Huang 2014; Steele 1988). When managers were
exposed to market research indicating that the running market is less attractive
compared to the golf market, they experienced a threat to their self-associated domain
and thus to their self. Making a decision against market research insights seems to be a
defensive reaction against a self-threat. Conducting floodlight analysis, we found that
managers with a moderately strong running identity became eager to make a decision
as if market research insights were equally favorable toward both the running and golf
markets. Hence, managers tended to interpret self-threatening market research insights
in a way that led to defensive decisions. This is consistent with our hypothesis that a
defense mechanism causes the facts-be-damned bias – H2. We developed Study 2 to
prove this hypothesis.
4 Study 2: Evidence for Managers’ Defensive Behavior
against Market Research Insights
Study 2 serves two purposes. First, to fortify the external validity of the facts-bedamned bias, we had to replicate managers’ reaction to threatening market research
insights in a different decision task. Therefore we extended our business case of
Study 1 to the managerial task of choosing an appropriate marketing testimonial for
promotion of the company’s brand. Research on testimonials for advertisement
strategies has indicted that managers should carefully choose marketing testimonials
based on consumer insights in order to receive positive advertisement-effects (Martin,
Wentzel, and Tomczak 2008). Second, we aimed to provide evidence for the
underlying motivated defense mechanism of the facts-be-damned bias (H2). We
reasoned that if a defense mechanism causes the facts-be-damned bias, a selfaffirmation intervention in an unrelated domain should mitigate managers’ decisions
against threatening market research insights (e.g., Puntoni, Sweldens, and Tavassoli
2011). Therefore, in Study 2 we either did or did not provide managers with selfaffirmation in ways unrelated to the subsequent marketing decision task. In the next
step, all managers received the self-threatening market research insights and were
asked to make their marketing management decision. For managers in the selfaffirmation condition, we expected to observe the facts-be-damned bias, as in Study 1.
In contrast, for managers in the control condition, we did not expect a defense
mechanism to be triggered. As a consequence, their marketing decisions should reflect
a rational processing of the provided market research insights.
4.2 Method and Materials
We recruited male marketing executives from the same alumni pool as in Study 1 via
email, inviting them to take part in two supposedly unrelated online surveys. As an
incentive to participate, executives read that they would be able to receive a
managerial summary of the study results, and to enter a lottery for an amount
equivalent to EUR 30. Overall, 89 marketing executives participated in our second
study (all men, for reasoning see below, mean age = 44).
In the beginning of Study 2, participants were randomly assigned to either a selfaffirmation intervention or a filler task serving as a control condition. We introduced
this part of our experiment as “pre-survey questions” and informed participants that
the purpose of those questions is to enhance the quality of our survey, since research
has proven that these questions increase participants’ attention to the actual survey.
We manipulated the self-affirmation intervention as in prior research (Reed and
Aspinwall 1998; Puntoni, Sweldens, and Tavassoli 2011). Participants answered three
questions that aim to strengthen their sense of self-integrity by reminding them of their
own kindness: “Have you ever tried to help a friend even at the expense of your own
happiness?” “Have you ever forgiven another person when they have hurt you?” and
“Have you ever found ways to help another person who is less fortunate than
yourself?” For each question, participants provided a supporting example. We
compared these supporting examples to check that participants gave appropriate
examples, and found that it was the case for all participants.
Participants in the control group received three filler questions, which we developed
for the study: “What did you have for breakfast this morning?” “On your way to
work, did you use public transportation this morning?” and “Have you checked the
weather forecast this morning?”
Modification of the Olymp Business Case Study
Following the self-affirmation manipulation, participants were introduced to Olymp
SE, as in Study 1. In Study 2, however, all participants received the threatening market
research insights, suggesting that the market for running is less attractive than the
market for golf (see Study 1 for the details on the content of the threatening market
research insights and Figure 4).
Further, we modified the managerial task to test the robustness of the facts-be-damned
bias. In particular, participants read that Olymp SE is looking for a suitable testimonial
for a marketing campaign for the upcoming year. We informed participants that an
advertising agency suggested two successful young male entrepreneurs. More
specifically, we provided two pictures illustrating a (nonfamous) testimonial, one
representing a golfer and the other a runner. To minimize confounding effects due to
differences in the provided pictures (e.g., colors, background, etc.), we chose two
different men for each sports category, and counterbalanced whether each picture
appeared on the left or right of the screen. Hence, each participant saw one of eight
different combinations of two target pictures (see Figure 8 for an example of a
combination). We only recruited men as participants for Study 2 to minimize effects
due to perceived physical attractiveness of the testimonial.
In their role as the head of marketing, participants should indicate their professional
preference for one of the two marketing testimonials, using a nine-point scale
anchored at 1 (very strong preference for golfer) and 9 (very strong preference for
runner). Participants read that their opinion mattered for the company’s final strategic
Figure 8: Example of Choice of Marketing Testimonials in Study 2
Life-Work Balance Survey
Following the business case study, participants were then introduced to a similar
online survey about work-life balance as in Study 1. Again, we used different overlaps
of two circles to measure managers’ strength of identification with different sports
(e.g., “running” and “me”, see also Figure 6). Participants indicated the degree to
which they identified with four sports – running (M = 3.61, SD = 1.856), golf
(M = 1.97, SD = 1.58), biking (M = 3.46, SD = 1.68), and hiking (M = 3.94,
SD = 1.55) – using seven-point scale (1 = far apart; 7 = complete overlap).
After finishing the second survey, participants were further prompted about the
purpose of both surveys in an open-ended question. They were able to sign up for the
management summary as well as the lottery, as promised in the invitation, before we
thanked them for their participation.
As in Study 1, participants identified more strongly with running than with golf
(strength of identification: Mrunning = 3.61, SD = 1.856 vs. Mgolf = 1.97, SD = 1.584,
t(88) = 6.11, p < .001, r2 = .30). This suggests that, on average, the market research
insights provided in Study 2 conflicted with participants’ self-associated domain of
running, as expected.
Regarding the open-ended question about the purpose of both surveys, we can affirm
that no participant assumed a relationship between the two surveys.
4.3.2 Moderated Regression Analysis
In respect to H2, we used a moderated regression analysis to test whether managers’
strength of identification with running (RunningSOI) has an effect on their preference
for the testimonials in the control condition, but not in the self-affirmation condition.
A higher value on the testimonial preference measure implied a tendency toward the
running testimonial, whereas a lower value implied a preference for the golf
testimonial. For readability reasons, we will refer to our dependent variable as
preference for the running testimonial (Preference Running: M = 3.84, SD = 2.536).
As in Study 1, we also included managers’ strength of identification with golf
(GolfSOI) in our regression model and mean-centered the two continuous variables
capturing managers’ strength of identification with running and with golf (cf. Aiken
and West 1991). Dummy-coding our two conditions (Affirmation) allowed us to
directly compare the effects between the control condition (Affirmation = 0) and the
self-affirmation condition (Affirmation = 1) (cf. Irwin and McClelland 2001; Cohen et
al. 2003; Spiller et al. 2013). Then we calculated the interaction variable (Interaction =
RunningSOIc x Affirmation). Since the residuals in the moderated regression were
initially not normally distributed, we transformed the dependent variable preference
for the running testimonial into its square root [Preference Runningtrans =
(Preference Running)1/2] (cf. Sakia 1992; Osborne 2010). Using this common
transformation, residuals were normally distributed. We further present the results
according to the following moderated regression model:
Preference Runningtrans = β0 + β1 RunningSOIc + β2 Affirmation + β3 Interaction +
β4 GolfSOIc + ε,
with the simple slope ω1 = β1 for the control condition (Affirmation = 0), and
ω2 = β1+ β3 for the self-affirmation condition (Affirmation = 1).
We found a significant interaction effect between strength of identification with
running and our experimental conditions (ß3 = -.15, t(84) = -2.00, p < .05, r2 = .05). It
suggests that self-affirmation moderates the effect of managers’ strength of
identification with running on their preference for a testimonial.
For managers in the control condition who were not self-affirmed, simple slope
analysis (cf. Cohen et al. 2003) revealed a significantly positive simple slope of
strength of identification with running on preference for the running testimonial
(ω1 = .17, t(84) = 3.09, p < .01, r2 = .10). The more participants identified with
running, the more they made a decision in favor of the running rather than the golf
testimonial, despite market research insights suggesting that the running market was
less attractive than the golf market. These results replicate our findings in Study 1 and
illustrate the facts-be-damned bias once more. For self-affirmed participants, the
simple effect of strength of identification with running on preference for the running
testimonial was not significant (ω2 = 0.03, p = .588). Supportive of H2, we found that
an unrelated self-affirmation intervention prior to the marketing decision task defused
the facts-be-damned bias. These findings suggest that a defense mechanism against
self-threat causes the facts-be-damned bias.
All results of the moderated regression analysis are presented in Table 6. The simple
effect of Affirmation was non-significant (ß2 = -0.08, p = 0.56). In other words, when
putting a spotlight on the mean of identification strength with running in the sample
(M = 3.61, SD = 1.856), we found that the indicated preferences were only marginally
different in both conditions. However, the facts-be-damned bias should show its full
consequences for moderately high values of strength of identification with running
(see also Study 1). We conducted a floodlight analysis, aiming to discover the point of
identification strength with running where managers in the self-affirmation condition
would indicate significantly different preferences for the testimonials compared to
managers in the control condition.
4.3.3 Floodlight Analysis
We conducted a floodlight analysis (see details on this approach in Study 1, section
3.3.3). Results revealed a Johnson-Neyman point at 6.35 on the 1-7 scale of strength of
identification with running (or 2.75 for RunningSOIc). Although managers in both
conditions received the same threatening market research insights, the results of the
floodlight analysis showed that managers in the self-affirmation condition compared to
managers in the control condition indicated a significantly different professional
preference when they strongly identified with running. Hence, at the Johnson-Neyman
point we are the most confident that the consequences of the facts-be-damned bias
have a significant influence on managers’ decisions. Managers strongly identifying
with the market they are working on are driven by the motivation to defend their selfassociated domain against any threatening market research insights, putting aside
rational decision behavior. Figure 9 illustrates the two simple slopes of our moderated
regression as well as the Johnson-Neyman point.
Figure 9: Simple Slopes of Study 2 – Preference for Marketing Testimonials
Table 6: Moderated Regression Results of Study 2 – Testimonial Running
RunningSOIc: Control Condition
ω1 = β1
RunningSOIc: Self-Affirmation Condition ω2 = β1+ β3
Study 2 highlighted the robustness of the facts-be-damned bias and found evidence for
the underlying defense mechanism. Whereas in Study 1 we showed that managers
made facts-be-damned biased decisions when allocating sponsoring budget, we found
the same effect on managers’ professional preference for a marketing testimonial in
Study 2. Hence, both studies confirmed that managers make decisions against market
research insights when those insights threaten a self-associated domain (H1). In other
words, the more managers identify with the market they are working on, the more they
perceive negative market research insights as self-threatening and the more they make
a decision against those insights.
In section 2.3, we discussed in detail how making a decision against threatening
information is an all-too-human defensive reaction to help maintain one’s own sense
of self-integrity. We could prove that a defense mechanism against self-threats indeed
causes the facts-be-damned bias (Hypothesis 2), when in Study 2 a common selfaffirmation intervention turned off the effect of strength of identification with running
on managers’ preference for the running testimonial. Although affirmed managers
were still exposed to the threatening market research insights suggesting that running
is less attractive than golf, we argue in line with self-affirmation theory (Steele 1988;
Sherman and Cohen 2006) that their boosted sense of self-integrity made an unbiased
use of those insights possible. Prior research emphasized that “it is the people who
view an issue as important rather than unimportant who should prove the most open to
affirmation‐induced change” (Sherman and Cohen 2006, p. 217). Accordingly, we
found that particularly strong identifiers made a significantly different marketing
decision whether they were self-affirmed before receiving the threatening market
research insights or not.
In Study 3, we aimed to focus our investigation on people who should be most
motivated to defend the running market and thus recruited marathon runners, asking
them to act as the marketing head of Olymp SE. The purpose of our last study is to test
whether different relationship norms between managers and market researchers
influence the occurrence of the facts-be-damned bias.
5 Study 3: Role of Relationship Norms between Decision
Makers and Market Researchers
In general, market research insights are provided to managerial decision makers by
market researchers, leading to a social interaction between the parties. In
Study 3, we aimed to examine how this interaction influences the occurrence of the
facts-be-damned bias. In particular, we propose that communal relationship norms
between managers and market researchers enable the occurrence of the facts-bedamned bias, while exchange relationship norms do not (H3). To test our hypothesis,
we modified our experimental design from the previous two studies in three ways.
First, we recruited marathon runners because we wanted to focus our investigation on
people who should be most motivated to defend the running market against threatening
market research insights. Second, we used a scale from prior research measuring
individuals’ sense of self-integrity to capture their current level of feeling self-affirmed
(Sherman et al. 2009; Townsend and Sood 2012). In line with our previous findings,
we assumed that the lower participants score on the self-integrity scale, the more they
are prone to the facts-be-damned bias. Third, we created two distinct short scenarios of
managers’ routine interaction with their researchers. In a pre-study we proved that one
scenario made communal relationship norms salient and the other exchange
relationship norms. Overall, we predicted that participants in the communal condition
would increasingly make decisions going against threatening market research insights
when they feel less self-affirmed demonstrating the defense mechanism of the factsbe-damned bias. In contrast, this defensive effect should not occur, if exchange
relationship norms between managerial decision makers and researchers can mitigate
the facts-be-damned bias.
In the following, we first present our two scenarios and report the results of a pre-study
testing the relationship norms manipulation before we continue with Study 3.
5.2 Pre-Study: Communal and Exchange Relationship Norms
Following previous research in marketing that manipulated communal and exchange
norms in business-to-consumer interactions (e.g., Aggarwal 2004; Wan, Hui, and
Wyer 2011; see also Table 4 for an overview), we created two distinct scenarios
highlighting either communal or exchange relationship norms between managers and
market researchers. In line with the overall story of our business case study, both
scenarios introduced the market research department of Olymp SE. In the role as head
of marketing, participants read one of the following two scenarios describing the
routine interaction between them and their market researchers:
Communal relationship norms condition:
The market research department of Olymp Corporation provides a wide range of
market and customer reports. You have worked with them ever since you started
working at Olymp Corporation a couple of years ago, and you have made many
memorable, positive, and warm experiences with these department members.
You order reports there on a regular basis, and you have always been
very happy to cooperate closely with them. In general, whenever you ask for
market and customer reports they take an extra effort to understand what you
need in order to give you the best service possible. They always give you a strong
feeling that they are genuinely interested in helping you.
The analysts are not only competent, but also very nice and friendly. You
even spend parts of your leisure time with them. The pleasant interaction with
them thus is beyond just information delivering. Further, you actually would even
consider the head of the market research department as a friend.
Exchange relationship norms condition:
The market research department of Olymp Corporation provides a wide range of
market and customer reports. You have worked with them ever since you started
working at Olymp Corporation a couple of years ago.
You order reports there on a regular basis and you have always been very
satisfied with the efficiency and the quality of their reports. In general, whenever
you ask for market and customer reports they get their work done fast – they
always respect deadlines that you both have mutually agreed on.
The analysts are all very well trained and are highly knowledgeable. They
know that it is an essential part of a professional business relationship to provide
good quality in exchange for the marketing budget you have invested in the
assignment. Working with them does seem like an even trade to you. Further, you
actually would consider the head of the market research department as an ideal
In advance of Study 3, we conducted a short pre-study to test whether our two
scenarios successfully manipulated peoples’ perception of either communal or
exchange relationship norms. For this purpose we recruited 60 people (34 men,
26 women, mean age = 33) via Amazon MTurk. Randomly assigned to either the
communal or exchange relationship norms scenario, pre-study participants initially
read about the routine interaction between the marketing head and the market research
department of Olymp SE. Subsequently, we asked participants to answer ten
statements on a seven-point scale ranging from 1 (strongly disagree) to 7 (strongly
agree) measuring a Net Communality Score designed by prior research (Aggarwal
2004). Seven of the ten statements reflect communal relationship norms, while the
other three statements reflect exchange norms. Communal statements: “I have warm
feelings toward my colleagues at the market research department”, “My colleagues at
the market research department would help me in times of need”, “I would miss my
colleagues at the market research department if I left Olymp Corporation”, “My
colleagues at the market research department treat me special”, “My colleagues at
the market research department care about me”, “My colleagues at the market
research department like me”, and “I care for my colleagues at the market research
department.” Exchange statements: “The colleagues at the market research
department provide good value for money”, “The colleagues at the market research
department provide a good service to continuously receive market research requests
from you”, and “The colleagues at the market research department deliver reports
that are worth the money.”
Following Aggarwal (2004), we reversed the score for the three exchange norms items
(α = .832) before computing the Net Communality Score together with the seven
communal norms items (α = .898). The results of our pre-study confirmed that our
manipulation of relationship norms worked as intended. Participants in the communal
relationship norms condition reported a higher Net Communality Score than did
participants in the exchange relationship norms condition (Mcommunal = 4.67 vs.
Mexchange = 4.34, t(58) = 2.65, p < .05, r2 = .11)
Additionally, we included confounding checks intended to rule out the possibility that
the two scenarios cause other effects as well. First, we asked participants to indicate
their agreement with the statements “The market research department of Olymp SE is
competent” and “The reports of the market research department are of good quality”
[on seven-point scale ranging from 1 (strongly disagree) to 7 (strongly agree)]. There
were no differences across the two relationship norms scenarios in how participants
perceived the market research department’s competence (Mcommunal = 5.87 vs.
Mexchange = 6.10, p = .315) nor the quality of market research reports (Mcommunal = 5.90
vs. Mexchange = 6.07, p = .483). Finally, using a common brief measure of the PANAS
scale (Watson, Clark, and Tellegen 1988), we found that neither positive affect
(Mcommunal = 3.89 vs. Mexchange = 4.2, p = .403) nor negative affect
(Mcommunal = 1.73 vs. Mexchange = 1.49, p = .352) differed across the two relationship
norms conditions (measured on a seven-point scale).
Overall, the results of the pre-study confirmed that the two different scenario
descriptions successfully manipulate relationship norms and therefore are appropriate
for our investigation of the influence of communal and exchange relationship norms
between managers and market researchers on the facts-be-damned bias. We used the
exact same two descriptions about the routine interaction between the head of
marketing and the market research department of Olymp SE for the following Study 3.
For Study 3, we recruited participants who all shared a strong identification with
running. Via a corporate sponsor of marathon events in Europe, we invited
marathoners to take part in our online business case study. Though they were not
experienced high-level executives as in Studies 1 and 2, participants were presumed
capable of assuming the role of a marketing executive since they all worked full-time
in industry jobs. More importantly, those people were committed and avid runners,
since they had all taken part in at least one international marathon within the year
preceding the study. As an incentive to participate, people read that they would be able
to receive a managerial summary of the study results, and to enter a lottery for an
amount equivalent to EUR 80 at the end of the study. Overall, 75 marathoners
participated in our third study (63 men, 12 women, mean age = 44).
Affirmation: Self-Integrity Scale
Before we introduced the business case study, we asked participants to answer some
short questions about themselves (e.g., gender, age, etc.), including an eight-item selfintegrity scale adopted from prior research (Sherman et al. 2009; Townsend and Sood
2012). We used the self-integrity scale to measure participants’ current level of feeling
self-affirmed at the time of the study (M = 5.89, SD = .52, α = .72). On a seven-point
scale ranging from 1 (strongly disagree) to 7 (strongly agree), participants indicated
the extent to which they agree with the following eight statements: “I have the ability
and skills to deal with whatever comes my way”, “I feel that I’m basically a moral
person”, “On the whole, I am a capable person”, “I am a good person”, “When I
think about the future, I’m confident that I can meet the challenges that I will face”, “I
try to do the right thing”, “Even though there is always room for self-improvement, I
feel a sense of completeness about who I fundamentally am”, and “I am comfortable
with who I am.” Afterward we introduced participants to our business case study.
Olymp Business Case Study
The business case in Study 3 represents a slightly modified version of the business
case scenarios in our previous two studies. Similar to Studies 1 and 2, participants
were introduced to Olymp SE and subsequently asked to imagine being the head of
marketing of this company. Upon receiving the market research insights, however,
participants were randomly assigned to either the communal or exchange scenario
from our pre-study. Each participant then read about the routine interaction between
him- or herself (in the role as head of marketing) and the market research department
of Olymp SE.
Subsequently, we informed participants that the following market research insights
were provided by Olymp’s market research department. Similar to Study 2, all
participants received the threatening market research insights suggesting that the
running market is less attractive than the golf market.
After reading the market research insights, participants continued with the decision
task. We asked participants to allocate a sponsoring budget of EUR 100,000 between
the running and golf business divisions (see Study 1 for the same decision task and
We informed participants that they had completed the business case study and asked
them to additionally complete some questions for further research. Participants
reported their interest in several sports (running, biking, tennis, skiing/snowboarding,
golf, indoor fitness, and others) on a five-point scale ranging from 1 (no interest at all)
to 5 (very high interest). Finally, participants were able to request the management
summary and enter the lottery before we thanked them for their participation.
As expected, participants indicated a very high interest in running, which was
significantly higher than their interest in golf (on a five-point scale: Mrunning = 4.96,
SD = 0.197 vs. Mgolf = 1.59, SD = 0.116, t(74) = 28.538, p < .001, r2 = .99).
5.4.2 Moderated Regression Analysis
In line with our previous findings, we argue that the facts-be-damned bias occurs when
participants’ current level of feeling self-affirmed (Affirmation) has a negative effect
on their sponsoring budget allocation to running (Budget Running). In other words, the
more (less) participants feel self-affirmed, the less (more) they should make a
defensive decision against the threatening market research insights. In regard to H3, we
test whether our manipulation of the relationship norms between managers and market
researchers (Relationship Norms) moderates the defensive effect of the facts-bedamned bias. Accordingly, we formulated a moderated regression analysis with
Budget Running as dependent variable, and Affirmation and Relationship Norms as
independent variables. Similar to the previous two studies, we additionally controlled
for participants’ interest in Golf (Golf). We mean-centered the two continuous
variables Affirmation and Golf (cf. Aiken and West 1991). Dummy-coding our
manipulation of relationship norms allowed us to directly compare the effects of the
communal condition (Norms = 0) and the exchange condition (Norms = 1) (cf. Irwin
and McClelland 2001; Cohen et al. 2003; Spiller et al. 2013). Then we calculated the
interaction variable (Interaction = Affirmationc x Relationship Norms). Since the
residuals in the moderated regression were initially not normally distributed, we
transformed the dependent variable Budget Running into its square root after adding
the value one [Budget Runningtrans = (Budget Running + 1)1/2] (cf. Sakia 1992;
Osborne 2010). Using this common transformation, residuals were normally
distributed. We further present the results according to the following moderated
Budget Runningtrans = β0 + β1 Affirmationc + β2 Relationship Norms + β3 Interaction +
β4 Golfc + ε,
with simple slope ω1 = β1 for the communal condition (Relationship Norms = 0), and
ω2 = β1+ β3 for the exchange condition (Relationship Norms = 1).
In support of H3, we found a significant effect of the Affirmationc x Relationship
Norms interaction (ß3 = 45.49, t(70) = 2.01, p < .05, r2 = .05), suggesting that
relationship norms between managers and market researchers influence the occurrence
of the facts-be-damned bias. Simple slope analysis locates the nature of this interaction
(cf. Cohen et al. 2003). We found that participants in the communal relationship norms
condition allocated significantly more money to running when their current level of
feeling self-affirmed decreased (ω1 = -41.06, t(70) = -2.44, p < .05, r2 = .08). This
result is consistent with our previous findings on the facts-be-damned bias, which
implicate a defense mechanism as the source of a manager’s decision against
threatening market research insights. In contrast, the simple effect of Affirmationc on
Budget Running was non-significant in the exchange condition (ω2 = 4.43, p = .767).
As a result, participants’ current level of feeling self-affirmed did not further mitigate
the facts-be-damned bias. In other words, we cannot find evidence for a defense
mechanism in the exchange condition. In fact, Figure 10 illustrates the simple slope for
each condition, demonstrating that managers in the exchange condition made
relatively rational decisions. Hence, exchange relationship norms between managers
and market researchers indeed mitigated the facts-be-damned bias.
All results on the moderated regression analysis are presented in Table 7. The simple
effect of Relationship Norm was non-significant (ß2 = -10.18, p = .372). In other
words, when putting a spotlight on the mean of Affirmation in the sample (M = 5.89,
SD = 0.515), we found that the portion of sponsoring budget allocated to running was
only marginally different between conditions. In order to detect at which threshold of
Affirmation the effect of Relationship Norm became significant, we ran a floodlight
analysis similar to that of our previous two studies.
5.4.3 Floodlight Analysis
A Johnson-Neyman point represents the value of participants’ current level of feeling
self-affirmed, at which we have the most confidence estimating the conditional effect
of Relationship Norms on Budget Running, on the facts-be-damned bias. Running a
floodlight analysis (Spiller et al. 2013), we found a threshold for Affirmation at 5.44
(or Affirmationc: -0.44). For participants with a level of feeling self-affirmed equal to
the J-N point or lower, the effect of relationship norms on budget allocation was the
most precise. Overall, the discovered Johnson-Neyman point for Affirmation is still
high, although it is slightly below the mean level of feeling self-affirmed in the sample
(M = 5.89, on a 1-7 scale). Our findings thus indicate that only managers with a strong
feeling of self-affirmation might be able to neutrally integrate threatening market
research insights when communal relationship norms guide their interaction with the
Figure 10: Simple Slopes of Study 3 – Allocation of Sponsoring Budget
Table 7: Moderated Regression Results of Study 3 – Budget Running
Affirmationc: Communal Condition
ω1 = β1
Affirmationc: Exchange Condition
ω2 = β1+ β3
Study 3 provides three findings further supporting our conceptualization. First, as in
our previous studies, we found evidence for the facts-be-damned bias when managers
are exposed to market research insights that threaten their self-associated domain(s).
Hence, the more managers perceive market research insights as self-threatening, the
more they make decisions going against those insights. Second, as in Study 2, our
results suggest that a defense mechanism against self-threat causes the bias.
Accordingly, feeling more self-affirmed when integrating the threatening insights
helps defuse the facts-be-damned bias. Third, Study 3 in particular shows that the
relationship norms between managers and market researchers influence the occurrence
of the facts-be-damned bias (H3). This bias is facilitated when communal relationship
norms guide the interaction between managers and market researchers, presumably
because communal norms make managers feel more exposed, and thus more
vulnerable. Managers might have perceived the threatening market research insights as
a violation of the communal relationship norms between them and their market
researchers, and thus they have given their defense mechanism a way. In contrast, with
relatively clear and impersonal exchange norms guiding the interaction with the
market researchers, managers did not further display the facts-be-damned bias.
Managers in the exchange condition might have suppressed their personal reaction or
drawn their attention to the actual benefits of the market research insights not
perceiving the information as threatening at all.
Overall, Study 3 pinpoints the fact that communal relationship norms between
managers and market researchers create a breeding ground for the facts-be-damned
bias, whereas exchange-oriented interactions seem to limit the bias. In the following,
we discuss the full-blown implications of our findings for marketing research and
practice as well as important limitations of our investigation.
6 General Discussion
6.1 Summary of Key Findings
The dissertation’s findings on managers’ defensive behavior against market research
insights support David Ogilvy’s quote that “we all have a tendency to use research as a
drunkard uses a lamppost – for support, but not for illumination.” The facts-be-damned
bias, which is the tendency to interpret self-threatening data in a way that goes against
rational judgment and decision making, captures one pernicious use of market research
insights as support rather than illumination. In three studies, we consistently found that
managers display this bias when they are exposed to market research insights that
threaten a self-associated domain. In Study 1, we demonstrated that a facts-be-damned
bias can occur among seemingly rational decision makers. When market research
insights were relatively neutral regarding a self-associated domain, managers’ identitydriven preferences did not color their decisions. However, the more managers
identified personally with a domain that is part of their professional working life, the
more they made decisions against threatening market research insights, interpreting
data in a way that supports their self-associated domain. Study 2 confirms that a
defense mechanism against self-threat indeed caused managers’ biased used of market
research insights. We demonstrated that providing managers with self-affirmation in a
domain unrelated to that in which they are expected to make professional decisions
mitigated the facts-be-damned bias. This finding suggests that managers’ “personal”
reaction is a process that managers themselves are chronically unaware of. Finally, we
linked our investigation to the concept of communal and exchange relationship norms,
examining a previously undocumented boundary condition of defensive behavior. The
findings revealed that the occurrence of the facts-be-damned-bias is more likely when
communal relationship norms highlight personal support as an important aspect of the
interaction between managers and market researchers. In this case, managers might
perceive threatening market research insights as a violation of those norms. As a
result, managers give their defense mechanism a way, presumably because one’s ego
is more vulnerable in the context of heightened social interdependence (cf. Wan, Hui,
and Wyer 2011). In contrast, when managers and researchers mutually engage in quid
pro quo, those exchange relationship norms fail to provide the same breeding ground
for the facts-be-damned bias.
Overall, our tests of the facts-be-damned bias are relatively conservative, for three
reasons. First, two of our studies illustrate the bias with actual marketing managers,
who were professionally trained to seek illumination in data, not support. Second, our
participants were provided with unambiguous, easy-to-interpret market research
insights before they made a marketing management decision based on that data. When
those insights were interpreted as a threat to the self, managers subsequently made a
decision going against those insights, despite the data’s lack of ambiguity. This shows
the formidable pervasiveness of defensive effects in managerial decision making,
beyond the already documented realms of healthcare (e.g., Puntoni, Sweldens, and
Tavassoli 2011), education (e.g., Sherman et al. 2013), and consumer information
processing (e.g., Dalton and Huang 2014). Third, in Study 3, we found that the factsbe-damned bias occurs even in a sample of marathoners whom we found to be highly
self-affirmed on average (M = 5.89, SD = .52, on a seven-point scale). Overall, our
data show that defense mechanisms can easily contaminate managerial decision
making, all the more perniciously since managers themselves are unaware of it.
6.2 Theoretical Contribution
On a theoretical level, we make three contributions. First, we identify the facts-bedamned bias in managerial marketing decision making. Second, we pinpoint the
defense mechanism behind it. In so doing, we apply self-affirmation theory (Steele
1988) to the context of managerial decision making. Third and critically, we contribute
to research on relationship norms and extend its premises. In the following, we discuss
all three aspects in more detail.
Scientific research investigating managerial decision behavior in marketing is still
relatively scarce, although “the quality of managerial decision making is the single
most determining factor for the success of marketing management” (Wierenga 2011,
p. 89). Because consumer behavior and marketing modeling are the flagship
disciplines in the academic world of marketing (Wierenga 2011), our findings on the
facts-be-damned bias among managerial decision makers are also important for the
impact of such research. We seized the previously made assumptions that market
research insights can fall outside a decision maker’s personal “comfort zone”
(Deshpande and Zaltman 1982; 1984). This issue has been calling for about 30 years
to be addressed from a behavioral perspective. We shed light on a situation when
managers perceive market research insights as an attack on their self-associated
domains. In many cases, regardless of the quality of data-based insights, managers
tend to make decisions going against threatening information.
In particular, our conceptualization highlights the consequences when managers
identify with the markets they are working for. Prior research in marketing cautioned
against identity-driven thinking in management (Bolton and Reed 2004). However, we
found that the facts-be-damned bias is a defense bias rather than primarily an identity
bias. In fact, our first study showed that managers’ decisions were independent of their
individual identity when market research insights were non-threatening, i.e., not
outside a manager’s comfort zone. But the facts-be-damned bias occurs when market
research “attacks” managers’ pet products.
In addition to identifying a robust behavioral bias in marketing management, we find
evidence for its underlying mechanism and present two ways to mitigate its
occurrence. Although research on behavioral biases is a well-established and broad
field, identifying appropriate debiasing techniques is only now becoming a more
fruitful and relevant research stream. Since we not only warn against the facts-bedamned bias in marketing management but also suggest two ways to prevent such
biased use of market research insights, our present research contributes to the “largely
uncharted frontier of debiasing” (Lilienfeld, Ammirati, and Landfield 2009).
Regarding self-affirmation theory, we show another instance of the observation that
people’s defense mechanisms against even mild self-threats are ubiquitous, in personal
as well as professional life. Self-affirmation interventions can maintain a sense of self-
integrity in spite of threatening situations (Steele 1988; Sherman and Cohen 2006).
Because managers frequently have to face uncertain situations and threatening
information, our research makes an important step in adapting self-affirmation
research to managerial decision behavior. While defensive behavior against
threatening healthcare information affects mainly the decision maker him-/herself,
managerial defensive behavior can have consequences for an entire company.
However, we also acknowledge that self-affirmation interventions can be risky
because they have the potential to backfire under certain circumstances (e.g.,
Sivanathan et al. 2008). We effectively used a self-affirmation intervention from prior
research, asking managers to write about a situation in which they helped a friend at
the expense of their own happiness. In general, close relationships are an invaluable
support when facing threatening situations. However, our findings confirm prior
research suggesting that self-affirmation interventions and decision tasks must be
unrelated (Sherman and Cohen 2006). While close relationships often empower people
to handle threatening situations, we demonstrated that receiving threat from a
communal relationship partner can backfire, i.e., favor the facts-be-damned bias. This
leads to our third pillar highlighting the link among relationship norms, the interaction
of managers and market researchers, and defensive behavior.
Adapting research on relationship norms to our investigation on the facts-be-damned
bias, we contribute to research emphasizing the importance of the interaction quality
of managers and market researchers regarding the use of market research insights
(Deshpande and Zaltman 1982; Moorman, Zaltman, and Deshpande 1992).
Furthermore, whereas prior research in marketing used the concept of communal and
exchange relationship norms for business-to-consumer interactions (see Table 4 for an
overview), we extend its premises to a business-to-business relationships. We argued
that both exchange and communal relationship norms can potentially guide the
interaction between managers and market researchers depended on different situational
cues. Using a prime to highlight either communal or exchange relationship norms, our
results revealed that the type of relationship norm can moderate managerial defense
mechanisms against threatening information. More specific, we conclude that
communal relationships can involve more human fragility than exchange relationships
do, and therefore they can more easily backfire in the context of advice taking and
decision making. Finally, we are the first to show that receiving threatening
information from an exchange relationship partner mitigates defensive behavior in the
context of managerial decision making.
6.3 Managerial Implications
6.3.1 How Managers Can Avoid Succumbing to the Facts-Be-Damned Bias
Why should managers take preventive actions to avoid propagating the facts-bedamned bias? To draw an analogy, imagine a backcountry skier. S/he completed some
training, acquired the appropriate equipment, and has experience with the terrain.
However, no matter how good our backcountry skier has prepared her-/himself,
checking the snow conditions and weather forecast on the day of skiing is most
crucial. Of course, that information cannot guarantee a smooth ride. But making a
decision against the facts gives her/him a good chance to set off an avalanche.
Yet never before have decision makers in marketing had access to such sophisticated
information about markets and consumers (Rust, Moorman, and Bhalla 2010). The
skill to combine domain expertise with data-based information constitutes the unique
selling proposition of a marketing manager (Wierenga 2011; McAfee and Brynjolfsson
2012). Some data experts seem to think that developing “analytics-savvy workers” is
the most important key to explore the huge potential of big data (e.g., Shah, Horne,
and Capellá 2012). However, we identified a behavioral bias that occurred when
marketing managers – professionally trained to treat data objectively – made decisions
after they had received market research insights. In our view, it is critical that
managers not only become aware of the facts-be-damned bias but implement strategies
to avoid their own defense mechanisms against market research insights. Although our
research is descriptive rather than normative in nature, our findings offer several
implications for managerial decision makers on a practical level to avoid the facts-bedamned bias.
Managers trained in using data for decision making are not automatically protected
from defense mechanisms. The facts-be-damned bias can operate in all decision
makers because defense strategies and mechanisms against psychological threats are
hardwired into the human nature. Hence, even data-driven managers might
occasionally make irrational decisions going against sound market research insights.
Our findings suggest that managers should become particularly wary of succumbing to
the facts-be-damned bias when they have a “pet product” or strongly identify with a
market they are working with. In some situations, managers’ intuition can outperform
data-based information if they have a profound expertise within the domain (Dane,
Rockmann, and Pratt 2011). However, when market research insights challenge these
self-associated domains, we showed that managers tend to experience those insights as
a personal affront causing defensive behavior.
Although awareness is a critical first step to avoid the facts-be-damned bias, the mere
knowledge of behavioral biases cannot prevent their occurrence. Kahneman, Lovallo,
and Sibony (2011) emphasized that the simple claim “forewarned is forearmed” has
not provided much practical help for decision makers to overcome their biased
behavior. In the same vein, prior research showed that people generally fail to
recognize their own cognitive biases, and this phenomenon was coined “the bias blind
spot” (e.g., Pronin, Lin, and Ross 2002). The problem is that people like to see
themselves as rational decision makers who sift the facts before making a decision.
Particularly defensive responses are more “rationalized” than “rational” (e.g., Kunda
1990). Hence, managers need strategies to avoid the facts-be-damned bias, and this
would include implementing standards on how to best integrate data-based information
in the decision process.
First, we showed that self-affirmation can temper and reduce the urgency of the shortterm motivation to protect the self from threat, and thus it enables managers to accept
unpleasant but decision-relevant market research insights. Steele (1988) emphasized
that the “availability” of mental strategies – either defense mechanisms or selfaffirmation – is an important factor when people must encounter self-threatening
information. More specifically, he assumes that “availability is a powerful, if not all
powerful, determinant of how we go about affirming the self” (Steele 1988, p. 294). In
our experiments, managers received the self-threatening insights and immediately
were asked to make a corresponding decision. Thus, using a defense mechanism was
more available than the chance to affirm the self by engaging in other activities before
making a decision. In order to prevent the facts-be-damned bias, we suggest that
managers take the time to let market research insights sink in before making a
corresponding decision. Making decisions in the heat of the moment has often been
known to have unwanted long-term consequences. For instance, Ariely (2010)
suggests that, in an aroused situation, managerial decision makers should “Take a deep
breath. Count backward from 10 (or 10,000). Wait until you’ve cooled off. Sleep on
it.” (p. 38). We not only echo that advice to sleep on market research insights, we
further recommend that managers actively engage in unrelated activities and thoughts
before making an important decision. Apart from our experimental setting, exercising
via one’s favorite sport might for some managers have the healing power to self-affirm
and eventually mitigate their own defensive behavior against threatening situations.
Second, we emphasize that managers’ expectations of the role of market research are
crucial to the facts-be-damned bias. We infer from our findings that exchange
relationship norms are more likely to ensure that managers are less personally affected
when insights contradict their personal preferences. Thus, we suggest that a tit-for-tat
interaction results in more objective managerial decisions. In particular, we emphasize
that managers should see market research as an equal counterbalance that can correct
behavioral faults if necessary. In a recent interview about the biggest thinking mistakes
in economics, Rolf Dobelli – businessman and author of The Art of Thinking Clearly –
explained his strategy to avoid the confirmation bias, a more generic form of the factsbe-damned bias. When he falls in “love” with a project, he asks an acquaintance to talk
him out of this project and gives him an incentive. If the person can change his mind,
he receives CHF 1,000. By doing so, Dobelli suggests, that managers can make sure to
see “both sides of the coin” (Dobelli 2013). Dobelli’s strategy to “hire” someone to
play devil’s advocate seems to coincide with our suggestion that managerial decision
makers and market researchers should establish quid pro quo standards in order to
avoid defensive responses to threatening marketing research insights. The role of the
market researcher can sometimes include providing a counterbalance to biased
decision behavior and managers at all levels should welcome the challenge (Roxburgh
In a recent management seminar in 2014 with approximately 60 marketing executives,
we briefly introduced the facts-be-damned bias. We asked participants which
standards of interaction with their market researchers would probably prevent them
from making decisions against market research insights (before showing them our
results on the third study). Half of the participants decided for communal, the other
half for exchange relationship norms. We acknowledge that not all managerial
decision makers might appreciate an impersonal and straight to the point interaction
with their market researchers. Particularly in communal relationships, it seems that
managers and market researchers should be alert to the facts-be-damned bias.
Importantly, we do not claim that following communal relationships norms preprogram a toxic situation. In fact, we showed that strongly self-affirmed managers
(Study 3) and managers who received a self-affirmation intervention (Study 2) were
immune against the facts-be-damned bias independent of the salient relationship norms
with their market researchers. However, our results point out that communal
relationships are much more fragile and can provide a breeding ground for the factsbe-damned bias. Because people in communal relationships are more vulnerable to
self-threats, those interpersonal interactions might require more tactfulness between
business partners to discuss sensitive topics.
6.3.2 Market Researchers Need Additional Negotiation Skills
The job of a data expert was recently labeled the “sexiest job of the 21st century”
(Davenport and Patil 2012). In fact, over the last few decades data-based information
has had an increasingly greater impact on managerial decision making, particularly in
marketing. Market research has become a multibillion-dollar industry and keeps
growing, with recent developments encompassing Web analytics and the burgeoning
promise of big data (Davenport 2013). In business schools around the world,
specialized master’s degree programs in market research teach students sophisticated
analytical skills and how to gather data with new technology.
The job of a market researcher encompasses the planning, collection, and analysis of
data relevant to marketing decision making, as well as communicating the results and
interpretation to managerial decision makers in an appropriate manner (Aaker, Kumar,
and Day 2004). Prior academic research has demonstrated, for instance, that graphical
presentations of data cannot reduce decision makers’ behavioral biases (Hutchinson,
Alba, and Einstein 2010). It takes more. Data are blind to decision makers’ comfort
zones, but human beings are not (necessarily). Of course, if market research were
driven by personal or political motivation, it would represent a breach of professional
standards. However, we emphasize the importance of market researchers
understanding that people are fundamentally driven by the motivation to feel “safe,
likeable, valuable, and competent” (Ross 2008, p. 3). Brennan (2000) emphasized that
to managers surprising results are not only suspect but threatening. As we
demonstrated in the present research, providing “threatening” market research insights
to managerial decision makers can trigger their defense mechanism against those
insights. We assume that market researchers want to avoid such a response when they
put energy and time into their work. Thus, market researchers are required to have
strong interpersonal and communication skills allowing her/him to communicate even
threatening market research insights effectively with managerial decision makers.
Based on our findings, we suggest that market researchers need more in-depth training
in negotiation skills. Establishing trustful relationships between managers and
researchers to facilitate the use of market research insights has been a recurring
recommendation for years (Deshpande and Zaltman 1982; Moorman, Zaltman, and
Deshpande 1992). While we acknowledge that trust in the quality of data is
fundamental, we advise that the relationship between managers and researchers should
not go beyond a tit-for-tat exchange of benefits. If market researchers want to address
the facts-be-damned bias among managerial decision makers, they should know how
to play the “devil’s advocate” appropriately. If communal norms have already been
established, tactfulness and perseverance might be the key to slowly defuse the
defense mechanisms of managers in relation to unpleasant market research insights.
Otherwise, we recommend establishing well-defined quid pro quo standards from the
start. For example, Lee, Acito, and Day (1987) recommended that market researchers
should request managers “to sign a statement of agreement that the proper research
questions were being asked and that the method proposed was an acceptable approach
for the problem” (p. 194).
6.3.3 Organizational Cultures and Standards in the Era of Big Data
In general, we emphasize that organizations should start addressing the issue of
behavioral biases in the workplace. After the financial crisis of 2008, Ariely (2009)
proclaimed the end of rational economics and announced, “armed with the knowledge
that human beings are motivated by cognitive biases of which they are largely unaware
[…], businesses can start to better defend against foolishness and waste” (p. 80).
Similarly, Kahneman, Lovallo, and Sibony (2011) suggested that “the fact that
individuals are not aware of their own biases does not mean that biases can’t be
neutralized – or at least reduced – at the organizational level” (p. 52).
Although investing in more capacity and expertise might generate more data-based
insights, experts on big data are warning that organizations will not automatically act
on those insights (e.g., McAfee and Brynjolfsson 2012). In this regard, we
acknowledge that embedding and appreciating data-based decision making is
fundamental if organizations invest in becoming part of the big data revolution, but it
does not necessarily protect managerial decision makers (and their companies) from
the facts-be-damned bias. For some companies the big-data advantages will come with
the price of fundamentally restructuring organizational cultures and defining new
Based on our findings, we first suggest that exchange relationship norms should guide
the interaction between managers and market researchers to prevent or mitigate
defensive behavior. The advantage of this approach is that decision makers experience
market research insights as less self-threatening. We mentioned before that market
researchers sometimes have to take on the role of devil’s advocate. Investigating the
interaction between marketing and sales, Homburg and Jensen (2007) came to a
similar conclusion. Their findings indicated that maximizing harmony between
business divisions does not necessarily maximize market performance. They
encouraged organizations to implement a culture that fosters devil’s advocacy because
it “ensures that more relevant information and more arguments enter into marketrelated decisions” (Homburg and Jensen 2007, p. 135).
At the same time, we have to acknowledge that our recommendation to establish
exchange norms clashes with considerable past research showing the benefits of
having a rapport for cooperation, trust, and commitment (e.g., Deshpande and Zaltman
1982; Moorman, Zaltman, and Deshpande 1992; Moorman 1995; Nadler 2004). For
instance, Moorman (1995) argued that organizational information processes need
commitment and trust among organizational members and found that “clans”
compared to other cultures facilitate organizational information processes. Similarly,
Chen and Berger (2013) suggested that bringing up a controversial topic should be less
threatening with friends because “knowing more about close others enables people to
tailor what they say to ensure smooth conversation” (p. 582). However, these
arguments are not necessarily in conflict with our findings because we demonstrated in
Studies 1 and 2 that strongly self-affirmed managers do not display the facts-bedamned bias, independent of the kind of interaction between them and their market
researchers. Thus, we suggest a second way to mitigate the facts-be-damned bias on
the organizational level.
Organizations can provide managers with sufficient self-affirmation, for example, via
retreats or the regular practice of an activity (e.g., engaging in prosocial activities) in
which they affirm a part of their identity that does not overlap with their managerial
decision tasks. Managers can thus better handle threatening situations in a constructive
way, rather than spend mental energy on defensive behavior. Although recent research
suggests that self-affirmation interventions can have long-lasting effects (e.g., Harris
and Napper 2005; Sherman et al. 2013), the documented effects are few, and only
Sherman et al. (2013) and Cohen et al. (2009) showed behavioral effects. Hence, we
suggest that investing in ways to regularly provide a company’s managers with selfaffirmation is important, particularly when organizational environments celebrate
communal relationship norms. For instance, the data-driven company Google has
created and promoted an organizational environment where employees have plenty of
possibilities to engage in professional-unrelated activities during their work time, like
exercising via sports, playing video games, and organizing community events. Kanter
(2011) recommended more generally that organizations should cultivate a culture of
confidence fostering employees’ resilience for times of inevitable downturns because
“performance under pressure – the ability to stay calm, learn, adapt, and keep on going
– separates winners from losers” (p. 34).
Overall, we aim to emphasize that organizations in the era of big data should meet the
challenges of human shortcomings associated with the use of data-based information
for managerial decision making. We showed that organizations can develop a culture
that highlights exchange relationship norms, thereby limiting managers’ personal
defensive reactions to market research insights. However, a “cold” data-driven
environment might not be suitable for all organizations. Creating an organizational
culture that supports decision makers maintaining a strong sense of self-integrity can
help to become immune to the facts-be-damned bias as well. In both cases, we
recommend that organizations invest in trainings that allow decision makers to reflect
on behavioral biases in the workplace. Similarly, Biyalogorsky, Boulding, and Staelin
(2006) suggested that organizations should institute educational programs and policies
addressing the issue that “managers tend to examine data with the goal of making the
world appear consistent with their own views of reality” (p. 118). For instance,
discussing management target literature with examples of human shortcomings in
organizations – such as Decision without Blinders by Bazerman and Chugh (2006) –
can present a good first step for managers to reflect on their own decision behavior and
comfort zone to threatening information. Furthermore, organizations can support their
internal market researchers with trainings on advancing important negotiations skills.
This is important because in the heat of a moment, the personal interaction between
organizational members can influence whether or not decisions display the facts-bedamned bias (for a discussion on affect in organizations, see e.g., Barsade and Gibson
6.4 Limitations and Further Research
6.4.1 Limitation of Experimental Approach and Setting
Although we believe that the dissertation’s findings make a valuable contribution to
the field of managerial decision behavior in marketing, our investigation has some
limitations. In this section we critically discuss the use of online experiments and the
generalization of findings from our specific experimental setting.
Most prior studies on managerial use of market research insights were based on survey
methods. In particular, researchers used a recall method in which managers were asked
to consider the most recent marketing project associated with the use of market
research insights (e.g., Deshpande and Zaltman 1982; Moorman, Zaltman, and
Deshpande 1992). Recalling an actual real-world project carries the advantage of
bolstering external validity. However, it risks providing inaccurate responses because
participants are likely to have rationalized their past decisions (Lee, Acito, and Day
1987). Surveys are particularly limited in regard to the detection of behavioral biases
(Sprinkle 2003) because people are generally unaware that their past decisions were
biased. For this reason, research on the use of market research insights has
increasingly conducted experimental studies (see Table 2).
Aiming to investigate a potential behavioral bias, its psychological mechanism, and
ways to mitigate the bias, we ran three controlled online experiments. In general,
controlled experiments constitute the standard in behavioral research to test hypotheses
and detect cause-effect relationships between variables (Cook and Campbell 1976;
Aaker, Kumar, and Day 2004). The relative advantage of experiments is a higher
internal validity due to the ability to control for confounding effects. On the down side,
experiments can be artificial, thereby lowering the external validity (Cook and
Campbell 1976). Aiming to address the issue of external validity, we recruited actual
managers for our research. Because it is difficult “to get real marketing decision
makers in the lab” (Wierenga 2011, p. 99), we conducted online experiments.
There are some potential advantages and disadvantages to conducting an experiment
online as opposed to in the lab (see Birnbaum 2004, for a review of pros and cons).
For instance, the absence of the researcher creates two important advantages. First, the
data collected online does not suffer from the experimenter’s bias, that is, when
researchers unintentionally affect participants (Birnbaum 2001; Reips 2000).
Additionally, it protects the anonymity of the participants, which, for example, reduces
socially desirable answers (Joinson 1999). On the other hand, the main disadvantage of
conducting online compared to lab experiments is a relative lower internal validity due
to the inability to control environmental factors (e.g., technical facilities,
environmental distraction, and use of additional aids) (e.g., Dandurand, Shultz, and
Due to the limitations of online experiments regarding internal and external validity,
we encourage future research to complement our research on the facts-be-damned bias
by conducting further laboratory as well as field experiments. Regarding field
experiments, Jaworksi (2011) recently prompted research in marketing to “spend much
more time observing, recording, and analyzing managers’ work in their natural
setting” (p. 214).
Supporting the generalization of our findings on the facts-be-damned bias, we
acknowledge that future research should extend our work to other experimental
settings. First, future studies might use real market research insights. In ours, we
fabricated the provided market research insights because we wanted to manipulate
whether insights are threatening or not (see Study 1). If we had shown that managers
make decisions against real market research insights, the results would have pointed
out the consequences of the facts-be-damned bias more dramatically.
Second, our investigation is relatively one-sided regarding the managers’ identity that
was threatened by market research insights. We used the identity of a runner because
we needed to utilize an identity that is shared by many people in our participantspools. Future research could investigate, for instance, how managers’ nationality
influences their use of threatening market research insights when making a decision on
a location for a company’s first flagship store. In another context, a manager might
work for a home appliance company considering cooking shows as a marketing
strategy. Would the manager who holds a valued identity as an amateur cook display
the facts-be-damned bias when market research provides insights that contradict the
marketing effectiveness of cooking shows? We emphasize that applying our
conceptualization to other experimental settings would help to increase the robustness
of the characterization of the facts-be-damned bias.
6.4.2 General Avenues for Future Research
Our research raises some further theoretical questions that we did not address in the
realm of this dissertation but which might present fruitful avenues for future research.
Regarding self-affirmation theory, Steele (1988) emphasized that it depends on i) the
“availability of a mental strategy” and, among equally available strategies, ii) the
perceived relative “effectiveness-to-cost ratios” as to whether people display defense
mechanisms or use other self-affirmation adaptions to absorb threatening information.
In our studies, we did not encourage managers to take time to recover from the
threatening market research insights before making a decision. Thus, defense
mechanisms might have been more available. Future research could investigate
whether some managers automatically deploy self-affirmation interventions before
making decisions based on data (e.g., through procrastination, see section 2.3).
Regarding effectiveness-to-cost ratios, we have to admit that our participants’
decisions had no consequences. Hence, it would be interesting to examine whether the
facts-be-damned bias is tempered when the perceived costs for a wrong decisions
One may ask how often the relationship norms between managers and market
researchers are of a communal rather than an exchange type. We mainly argued that
the answer is a function of organizational culture but it can also vary across country
cultures. Regarding the latter, we collected the data for this research in a European
country where business relationships might follow more communal norms than in
other countries (e.g., USA). In fact, we acknowledge that this might be a reason why
the facts-be-damned bias was so blatant in our first two studies. Further, our
participants were alumni of the same school, another factor presumably favoring
communal rather than exchange relationship norms. We further emphasize that it
would be interesting to pinpoint more precisely specific organizational contexts (e.g.,
family-owned companies working with long-term, closely associated suppliers of
market research) or cultural contexts (e.g., collectivistic cultures) in which it is likely
that communal relationship norms are common between managers and market
researchers, and (as a result) in which the facts-be-damned bias may strongly impact
managerial decision making. Additionally, other research fields might be interested in
replicating our findings on relationship norms beyond business interactions. For
instance, when medical doctors provide threatening healthcare information to their
patients, would following exchange relationship norms help patients to better accept
Importantly, we also suggest that one should not over-interpret the concept of
communal and exchange relationship norms in the context of business interactions
(cf. Aggarwal 2004). The interaction between managerial decision makers and market
researchers might highlight more communal norms than other business relationships
do, but their relationship is still not comparable to people who know each other
intimately. Given such obvious differences between private and business relationships,
we suggest that investigating other normative rules of behavior between managerial
decision makers and market researchers would represent a productive avenue for
future research. This is because our findings reveal that social norms create an
interesting tension: the trade-off between an interaction on cordial terms and the ability
to use data objectively. In this respect our work resonates with research revealing a
“dark side” of long-term relationships in marketing services (Grayson and Ambler
1999; see also Grayson 2007) and more recently of rapports in business relationships
(Jap, Robertson, and Hamilton 2012).
Additionally, future research might find other approaches to mitigate defense
mechanisms. For instance, Puntoni, Sweldens, and Tavassoli (2011) suggested that
“voicing the fear” can mitigate defensive behavior against self-threatening information
because people become aware of their actual motives. In the context of motivated
forgetting as defense mechanism, Dalton and Huang (2014) found that people suppress
unpleasant information only for explicit memory but it remains implicitly accessible.
Further, in light of the market research-driven era that we seem to have entered with
the advent of business analytics, our findings raise a troubling question: are there
situations in which, in order to avoid the facts-be-damned bias, managers would be
better off making decisions without market research information? Our studies do not
examine this question, as an underlying assumption in our work so far is that data,
however irrationally used, remains better than pure managerial intuition, at least for
most managers. Indeed, we recall that in our findings we do show that the facts-bedamned bias occurs along with some rational decision making (e.g., in Study 1, when
market research shows that running is an inferior investment compared to golf,
managers do invest less in running on average).
Similarly, we did not rule out the possibility that the facts-be-damned bias can have
positive effects on managerial outcomes. In some situation it can be helpful that
defense mechanisms protect from damages to self-integrity. Because sometimes the
managerial “task isn’t to predict what will happen but to make it happen” (Rosenzweig
2014). Acknowledging that self-fulfilling prophecies can have the power to realize
success against overwhelming odds, we argue that most managerial decisions in
marketing depend on the market environment and demands of consumers. Because the
quality of data-based information for marketing will further improve in the coming
years, the consequences of the facts-be-damned bias might become more harmful for
organizations. However, future research should more generally investigate when the
use of market research insights has positive effects and when managers’ intuitions
outperform data-based information.
Concluding, we emphasize that defensive behavior against sound market research
insights can open a Pandora’s box for marketing managers and organizations. As in the
beginning, we refer to the words of David Ogilvy: “Advertising people who ignore
research are as dangerous as generals who ignore decodes of enemy signals.” In the
end, we hope to have shed some light on the complexity of managerial decision
making in marketing. We are looking forward to future studies extending our research
and highly appreciate feedback from managerial decision makers, market researchers,
and organizations sharing their experience of the facts-be-damned bias.
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– Jasmin Eberharter –
Date and Place of Birth: July 26, 1983, in Frankfurt/Main, Germany
2010 – 2015
University of St.Gallen, Switzerland
Doctoral Studies in Management/Marketing
2013 – 2014
HEC Paris, France
Visiting Scholar granted by Swiss National Science Foundation
University of Michigan, USA
ICPSR Summer School in Quantitative Research Methods
2003 – 2009
University of Erlangen-Nuremberg, Germany
Undergraduate and Graduate Studies in Business Administration
University of Georgia, USA
Graduate Studies in Marketing, at Terry College of Business
Swiss International Air Lines Ltd., Switzerland
Manager Channel Research and Strategy
2010 – 2012
Institute of Marketing, University of St.Gallen, Switzerland