AbstractConsumer research has documented dozens of instances in which the introduction of an "irrelevant" third option affects preferences between the remaining two. In nearly all such cases, the unattractive dominated option enhances the attractiveness of the option it most resembles — a phenomenon known as the "attraction effect." In the studies presented here, however, we contend that this phenomenon may be restricted to stylized product representations in which every product dimension is represented by a number (e.g., a toaster oven that has a durability of 7.2 and ease of cleaning of 5.5). Such effects do not typically obtain when consumers experience the product (e.g., taste a drink) or when even one of the product attributes is represented perceptually (e.g., differently priced hotel rooms whose quality is depicted with a photo). We posit that perceptual representations of attributes do not support the sorts of comparisons that drive the effect with highly stylized examples, and we question the practical significance of the effect.
Frederick, Shane, Leonard Lee, and Ernest Baskin. "The Limits of Attraction." Journal of Marketing Research 51, no. 4 (August 2014): 487-507.