ISSN 0439-755X
CN 11-1911/B

Acta Psychologica Sinica ›› 2013, Vol. 45 ›› Issue (12): 1393-1409.doi: 10.3724/SP.J.1041.2013.01393

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The Regulation of Inaction Inertia: From the Forward-Looking Perspective of Multiple Reference Points

SU Song;CHEN Rong;HUANG Jinsong   

  1. (1 School of Economics and Business Administration, Beijing Normal University, Beijing 100875, China) (2 School of Economics and Management, Tsinghua University, Beijing 100084, China) (3 School of Economics and Management, Beijing Beihang University, Beijing 100191, China)
  • Received:2013-01-21 Published:2013-12-25 Online:2013-12-25
  • Contact: HUANG Jinsong


Inaction inertia causes negative impacts on both consumers who miss a good opportunity and marketers who end a promotion activity. Prior research in this field has mostly looked at the antecedents of inaction inertia, and little research has focused on the mechanism and strategy for regulating inaction inertia. To explore the strategies for releasing the inaction inertia effect, prior research has proposed a “backward-looking” approach which is based on decoupling the present opportunity with forgone opportunity to avoid comparisons between two opportunities. However, the effectiveness of the strategy should be further manifested under more practical conditions such as clear opportunities comparability, short temporal or spatial distance. Given the insufficiency of previous research, we adopted a “forward-looking” approach based on multiple reference point theory by taking present and future similar opportunities into consideration. In specific, we proposed that when a present inferior similar opportunity was highlighted after missing a good opportunity, consumers would take the inferior option as one of their reference point. The effect of multiple reference point might change the judgment and choice of consumers. Inaction inertia might thus be regulated. Similarly, when the information of future opportunity with increased cost was noticed by consumers, they would anticipate the future choice and take it as a reference for their decision. In addition, there are four major theoretical explanations for the psychological mechanism behind inaction inertia in previous research. However, scholars are still in disputes over the psychological processes. The research examined these four possible explanations for the relationship between the history of missing opportunity and the existence of inferior reference points. The hypotheses were tested by two studies. In study 1, two hundred and two students from universities in Beijing were randomly assigned to one of the five conditions in a 2 (difference in opportunity attractiveness: small vs. large) × 2 (inferior opportunity: without vs. with) + 1 (control) between-subject design. Participants were provided with a one-page questionnaire containing the scenario describing a decision about buying T-shirt and questions measuring action likelihood, anticipated inaction/action regret, experienced regret, valuation and perceived loss. In study 2, the experiment was a 2 (difference in opportunity attractiveness: small vs. large) × 2 (anticipation of cost increase: weak vs. strong) + 1 (control) between-subject design. One hundred and eighty six students from universities in Beijing were randomly assigned to one of the five conditions and presented with a brief questionnaire containing the scenario about renting room and the measures. The data were run by ANOVA and regression analysis in both studies. The results demonstrated that inaction inertia could be attenuated by the influence of multiple reference points when an inferior similar opportunity significantly existed (study 1), or when a future opportunity with increased cost was anticipated (study 2). And in both studies, the mediation effect of anticipated inaction regret was significantly confirmed. The findings enrich the research on inaction inertia and shed fresh light on how to overcome inaction inertia by proposing a multiple reference point perspective. The results point to managerial implications by suggesting the strategies of highlighting a new reference point for consumers after an intense promotion campaign concludes. The research also contributes to the literature by demonstrating the mediation role of anticipated inaction regret in leveraging inaction inertia.

Key words: inaction inertia, regulation, multiple reference point, anticipated regret