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Nowadays, there is an ongoing trend for retailers to provide a vast number of products to consumers (Lleras, Masatlioglu, Nakajima, & Ozbay, 2017). Manufacturers and retailers cater to their customers by broadening product lines or increasing diversification of products. However, an important question for manufacturers and retailers is whether providing a larger assortment of a product would optimize the benefits and costs of the assortment size for both buyers and sellers. In our study we explored whether people always want a larger assortment from the perspective of the decision maker.

Choosing among assortments of different sizes is the first phase of a hierarchical decision process (Chernev, 2006; Kahn & Lehmann, 1991). A general finding on this phase of the process is that consumers are always attracted to larger assortments (Broniarczyk, Hoyer, & McAlister, 1998; Chernev, Bockenholt, & Goodman, 2015; Iyengar & Lepper, 2000; Scheibehenne, Greifeneder, & Todd, 2010). However, in an emerging stream of research, scholars have identified specific factors to challenge this assumption (Chernev, 2006; Chernev & Hamilton, 2009; Goodman & Malkoc, 2012; Tuan Pham & Chang, 2010). Among this literature, the main focus in studies from the perspective of individual differences has been on the situationally induced state, such as psychological distance, choice justification, or regulatory focus (e.g., Goodman & Malkoc, 2012; Ratner & Kahn, 2002; Tuan Pham & Chang, 2010).

However, individual difference consists of a set of traits and other factors that are specific to a situation or task (Kassarjian, 1971). For instance, self-confidence could be constructed as a situationally induced state--that is, specific self-confidence--or as a more stable trait--that is, general self-confidence (Hisrich, Dornoff, & Kernan, 1972; Locander & Hermann, 1979; Taylor, 1974). Thus, we wondered whether having confidence in one's self-worth and having confidence in one's ability to select a specific product would both lead to the same assortment preference. We proposed that the theory behind the concepts of specific self-confidence and of general self-confidence would lead to a significant difference in consumer assortment size preference.

Literature Review and Hypotheses

Specific Self-Confidence, Perceived Difference, and Large Assortment

Specific self-confidence (SSC) refers to individuals' confidence in their ability to perform a specific task (Locander & Hermann, 1979). The domain of SSC is related to task- or context-specific capabilities (Garvey, Germann, & Bolton, 2016; Stajkovic & Luthans, 1979). However, feeling confident when doing one task may not generalize to another task (Krueger & Dickson, 1994). For example, a consumer may have high SSC in selecting wine but low SSC in selecting a car. SSC is also a state and increases as various skills are mastered when learning how to perform a task, gaining experience, and acquiring information (Wood & Bandura, 1989). Additionally, the consequence of SSC is closely related to behavior outcomes (Rosenberg, Schooler, Schoenbach, & Rosenberg, 1995).

As already described, SSC can be reinforced from mastering a skill (Wood & Bandura, 1989). This implies that high SSC leads consumers to infer that they have rich consumption experiences and process information elaborately, which makes them better able to detect subtle distinctions between options (Redden, 2008). In contrast, low SSC leads consumers to slacken their cognitive effort and obstructs their analytical thinking capabilities (Bandura, 1997), which leads to their not processing information elaborately and ignoring the differences among options (Redden, 2008). For example, in general women have higher SSC than do men when selecting lipsticks. Women perceive lipstick colors more distinctively, seeing them as shades of the color red, such as vermilion, carmine, or rose. However, for men, lipsticks have only two colors: red and not-red. Hence, we reasoned that having high (vs. low) SSC would lead consumers to perceive options as distinctive (vs. substitutable). This insight has an implication for predicting assortment preference.

Goodman and Malkoc (2012) found that when options are perceived as substitutable, either the large or small assortment can fulfill a consumer's goal, which leads to a decrease in preference for large assortments. However, when options are perceived as distinctive, seeking more options can allow one to gain greater value, which leads to an increase in preference for large assortments.

To recap, we proposed that high (vs. low) SSC would lead consumers to perceive options as distinctive, and, thus, to prefer a large assortment over a small one. Therefore, we formed the following hypotheses:

Hypothesis 1a: Consumers with high specific self-confidence will show a stronger preference for a large assortment than will those with low specific self-confidence.

Hypothesis 1b: The effect of specific self-confidence on consumers' assortment preference will be mediated by perceived difference in options.

General Self-Confidence, Social Influence, and Large Assortment

General self-confidence (GSC) refers to individuals' perception of how capable, significant, successful, and worthy they are (Locander & Hermann, 1979). As a generalized self-evaluation crossing various situations, GSC is a stable trait and shares commonality with self-esteem (Garvey et al., 2016; Hisrich et al., 1972; Stajkovic & Luthans, 1979).

In early works on GSC, researchers have indicated that GSC shows little influence on behavioral variables because the central feature of GSC--self-worth--has a very weak connection to a specific behavior (Hisrich et al., 1972; Locander & Hermann, 1979). However, according to sociometer theory, GSC is a barometer of one's perceived past, present, and future relational value (Leary & Baumeister, 2000; Leary, Tambor, Terdal, & Downs, 1995), and has a significant influence on social decision making (Anthony, Holmes, & Wood, 2007; Anthony, Wood, & Holmes, 2007). For instance, people with low GSC who doubt their value in a relationship are less likely than other people are to join a social group (Anthony, Wood, et al., 2007), and work mainly for social acceptance (Isaksen & Roper, 2012). In contrast, people with high GSC who believe they are well accepted by others have a high threshold for social risk and are more willing than are their peers to join a social group (Anthony, Wood, et al., 2007).

Hence, we proposed that GSC would influence the level of social anxiety experienced by people when circumstances involve social influence and consequently they would have a tendency to choose a large assortment. First, social influence triggers a self-presentation motivation by making individuals self-conscious (Baumeister, Tice, & Hutton, 1989). Social anxiety arises when people have the motivation to create a preferred impression and doubt that they will do so (Schlenker & Leary, 1982). For example, people are concerned about projecting a preferred image under public rather than private conditions (Schlenker & Leary, 1982). When the motivation is activated, low (vs. high) GSC makes people perceive themselves negatively, generating lower outcome expectancies (Schlenker & Leary, 1982) and subsequently leading to the individual experiencing greater social anxiety (Anthony, Wood, et al., 2007; Garvey et al., 2016).

Second, findings reported in previous research show that choosing a large assortment is deemed a self-presentation approach (Ratner & Kahn, 2002) that could decrease social anxiety. Similarly, people who feel insecure about, and unsupported in, their relationships desire a variety of choices more than do people in supportive relationships (Ybarra, Lee, & Gonzalez, 2012). Thus, we predicted that when social influence is present, people with low (vs. high) GSC would prefer a large assortment over a small assortment, in order to decrease their high social anxiety. However, we did not expect that GSC would exert any influence when social influence was absent. Therefore, we formed the following hypotheses:

Hypothesis 2a: When social influence is present, people with low general self-confidence will show a stronger preference for a large assortment than will those with low general self-confidence, and this effect will be mediated by social anxiety.

Hypothesis 2b: When social influence is absent, general self-confidence will not influence assortment preference.

Interaction of Specific and General Self-Confidence

Findings in previous research have indicated that the influence of SSC depends on the level of GSC under a given condition (Shrauger & Schohn, 1995). Thus, we proposed that when social influence is present, SSC would affect assortment preference concurrently with GSC.

To clarify, in the situation where consumers encounter a decision setting with social influence present, low GSC makes people concerned about social rejection (Anthony, Wood, et al., 2007), which leads those with high SSC to process information more elaborately in order to avoid mistakes, and to pay more attention to the differences among options. Consequently, in this situation, those high in SSC will prefer a large assortment. However, in the same situation, people with low SSC will exhibit less motivation to compare a large assortment of options or will even give up easily (Bandura, 1982). Notably, we did not expect this outcome to occur when social influence is absent. Accordingly, we formed the following hypothesis:

Hypothesis 3: Low (vs. high) general self-confidence will strengthen (vs. weaken) the effect of specific self-confidence on preference for a large assortment only when social influence is present.


Participants and Research Design

We recruited 194 undergraduate university students to participate in this experiment (52.73% women, 47.27% men; [M.sub.age] = 20.16 years, SD = 0.69). They were randomly assigned to a group according to a 2 (SSC: high vs. low) x 2 (GSC: high vs. low) x 2 (social influence: public vs. private) between-subjects design. A postexperiment check revealed that none of the participants guessed the purpose of the study.


All procedures were presented on paper. The first part of the procedure comprised SSC and GSC manipulations, which were counterbalanced between participants to control the order effect. SSC was manipulated by presenting either a detailed specialty set of facts about chocolate (high SSC) or information written in simple prose about chocolate (low SSC). The article lengths were kept consistent. Three statements served as check items ("I am familiar with choosing chocolates," "I have a good ability for choosing chocolates," "I have a lot of knowledge about choosing chocolates") and were rated on a 7-point Likert scale where 1 = totally disagree and 7 = totally agree ([alpha] = .92). GSC was manipulated by using advertising slogans (Wan & Rucker, 2013). Participants either read slogans like "With confidence, you can reach truly amazing heights" (high GSC), or slogans like "Doubt: the only thing that makes life possible is permanent uncertainty" (low GSC). Four statements served as check items ("I feel confident," "I feel valuable," "I feel capable," and "I feel successful) and were rated on a 7-point Likert scale where 1 = not at all, 7 = extremely ( [alpha] = .94). We also measured attitude toward the advertisements on a 7-point Likert scale (1 = bad/negative/dislike, 7 = good/positive/like; [alpha] = .86).

The second part was a choice task. The public social influence group received the following information: "You are considering buying chocolates from one of two online stores while a friend is leaning on and watching you." An observer was assigned to sit behind each of the participants to enhance the perception that somebody was present. The private social influence group were told: "When you are at home alone, you want to buy chocolates from one of two online stores." Participants were shown 45 different chocolate descriptions arranged in three rows of 15 chocolates each to create counterbalanced sets. Each of the rows was rotated to represent the small assortment (15 chocolates; store A), and the rest represented the large assortment (30 chocolates; store B). Participants randomly received one of the three versions. All participants saw the same 45 options on a single page.

Participants were then asked to indicate how different they perceived each of these chocolate flavors to be on a 7-point Likert scale where 1 = not at all different and 7 = very different. Next, they were required to report their level of social anxiety in making the decision on each of four items (i.e., nervous/anxious/shy/awkward) on a 7-point Likert scale where 1 = none and 7 = very high. The dependent variable was the store they chose.


Manipulation Check

To check the SSC manipulation, the result of a one-way analysis of variance (ANOVA) revealed a main effect of SSC: [M.sub.HSSC] = 4.45, SD = 1.43 versus [M.sub.LSSC] = 3.86, SD = 1.41, F(1, 192) = 8.31, p < .01. Similarly, to check the GSC manipulation, a one-way ANOVA revealed a main effect of GSC: [M.sub.HGSC] = 5.24, SD = 0.94 versus [M.sub.LGSC] = 4.09, SD = 1.49, F(1, 192) = 41.37, p < .001. In addition, a one-way ANOVA of attitude toward the advertisements showed a nonsignificant effect of GSC (p > .20). Thus, this factor was not considered further.

Choice Pattern

We conducted a logistic regression of store choice (0 = choosing store A, 1 = choosing store B) as a function of SSC (0 = low, 1 = high), GSC (0 = low, 1 = high), social influence (0 = private, 1 = public), and their interactions. The results showed a main effect of SSC (B = 1.29, Wald = 4.50, SE = 0.61, p < .05), which supported Hypothesis 1a. Specifically, 71.1% of the participants in the high SSC group chose the large assortment whereas 54.6% of the participants in the low SSC group chose the large assortment, [chi square](1) = 5.65, p < .05.

Further, the results showed an interaction between GSC and social influence (B = -1.67, Wald = 3.93, SE = 0.84, p < .05), which supported Hypothesis 2. Specifically, the difference in the number of members choosing the large assortment between high and low GSC groups was significant in the public condition, [P.sub.HGSC] = 38.30% versus [P.sub.LGSC] = 81.25%, [chi square](1) = 18.25, p < .01, but not in the private condition (p > .08).

Finally, the regression revealed a three-way interaction (B = -2.86, Wald = 3.97, SE = 1.44, p < .05), which supported Hypothesis 3. The interaction is depicted in Figure 1, which shows that in the private condition, the high SSC group had stronger preference for the large assortment than did those in the low SSC group, whether their GSC was high, [DELTA]P = 28.00%, [chi square](1) = 5.09, p < .05, or low, [DELTA]P = 30.33%, [chi square](1) = 4.06, p < .05. However, in the public condition, those in the high SSC group had a stronger preference for the large assortment than was the case for the low SSC group when their GSC was low, [DELTA]P = 22.43%, [chi square](1) = 3.96, p < .05, but not when their GSC was high, [DELTA]P = -20.73%, [chi square](1) = 2.13, p > .10.
Figure 1. The three-way interaction effect on the preference for the
large assortment. [DELTA]P = [share.sub.B] (high SSC)--[share.sub.B]
(low SSC). GSC = general self-confidence, SSC = specific

                    Low SSC             High SSC

Public condition
Low GSC              69.57%               92%
High GSC             48%                  27.27%
Private condition
Low GSC              41.67%               72%
High GSC             60%                  88%

Note: Table made from bar graph.

Mediation Test

Perceived difference. Options were perceived more distinctively when SSC was high (M = 5.36, SD = 1.11) than when it was low (M = 4.70, SD = 1.20), F(1, 192) = 15.79, p < .01. We conducted a bootstrapping analysis using Model 4 of the PROCESS macro for SPSS (Hayes, 2013) to test the mediating effect of perceived difference (Hypothesis 1b). The results of the test for indirect effects, standard errors, and 95% confidence intervals (CI) indicated that perceived difference mediated the effect of SSC on assortment choices, indirect effect = .23, SE = .10, 95% CI [.07, .49].

Social anxiety. In the public condition, participants in the low GSC group felt more social anxiety (M = 3.51, SD = 1.18) than did participants in the high GSC group (M = 2.84, SD = 1.02), F(1, 192) = 8.62, p < .01. However, the influence of GSC on social anxiety in the private condition was nonsignificant (p > .08).

We conducted a bootstrapping analysis using Model 8 of the PROCESS macro for SPSS (Hayes, 2013) to test the moderated mediation effect (Hypothesis 2a). The indirect effect of GSC on the assortment choice through social anxiety was significant in public conditions, indirect effect = .28, SE = 0.15, 95% CI [.06, .65], zero not included, but not in the private conditions, indirect effect = .03, SE = 0.11, 95% CI [-.26, .17], zero included.


We examined when, how, and why SSC and GSC lead to different choice patterns for a large assortment compared to a small assortment. The results demonstrated that consumers with high (vs. low) SSC perceived options as more distinctive and, consequently, they preferred the large assortment. Unlike for SSC, we identified social influence as a boundary condition for explaining whether GSC exerts a significant influence in choosing between a large and small assortment. Consumers with low (vs. high) GSC felt more social anxiety and, consequently, they preferred the large assortment only when social influence was salient. Under this condition, the results also showed that low (vs. high) GSC strengthened (vs. weakened) the effects of SSC on assortment preference.

Our research findings make several contributions to the literature. First, we have extended the line of research on choosing among assortments. Consumer choice decision is viewed as a hierarchical process (Chernev, 2006; Kahn & Lehmann, 1991). However, there has been relatively limited research conducted in which the focus has been on the stage of choosing among assortments (Goodman & Malkoc, 2012). We have provided an individual-difference perspective (i.e., GSC and SSC) to show that large assortments are not always attractive at this stage. Second, we have provided a complete picture to understand the varying influences of GSC and SSC on assortment preference. In previous research on this classification framework the main focus has been on information searching, persuasive communication, and coping with emotions (e.g., Cox & Bauer, 1964; Hisrich et al., 1972; Keng & Liao, 2013; Locander & Hermann, 1979). We extended the scope of research to include consumer decision behavior. Third, we distinguished the mechanism underlying the effects of SSC from those of GSC, and we identified social influence as a moderator to reconcile contradictions in previous research about the effects of GSC.

Finally, our research findings offer practical implications. For example, in consumer education projects, instructors should merge GSC and SSC together, especially when presenting social cues, such as shopping with a confederate, buying gifts, or being watched by others. Marketers could recommend different assortment sizes for products by roughly inferring consumers' SSC or GSC, or they could apply marketing tactics to change consumers' SSC or GSC when the consumers are facing a fixed assortment size.

Several limitations should be noted in this research. First, future researchers need to adopt a more direct way to manipulate SSC to test the robustness of our conclusion. Although previous researchers have reported finding a positive relationship between objective knowledge and SSC, a distinction remains (Alba & Hutchinson, 2000). Second, a field experiment could be conducted to enhance the external validity of our results. Third, the framework of SSC and GSC could be extended to include other choice variables, such as choosing from a given assortment.


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Huazhong University of Science and Technology

Yawei Wang and Yaping Chang, School of Management, Huazhong University of Science and Technology.

This research was supported by the National Science Foundation of China (71372132, 71720107004, 71702097).

Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Yaping Chang, School of Management, Huazhong University of Science and Technology, No. 1037 Luoyu Road, Wuhan, People's Republic of China. Email:
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Author:Wang, Yawei; Chang, Yaping
Publication:Social Behavior and Personality: An International Journal
Article Type:Report
Date:Oct 1, 2018

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