Abstract - The Information Society 22(3)

Optimization and Its Alternative in Media Choice: A Model of Reliance on Social-Influence Processes

Bairj Donabedian

In the reconciliation of rational-choice and social-influence approaches to media choice offered here, the choice process is decomposed into two subprocesses. In the first subprocess—that of rational choice—decisional ambiguity frustrates complete optimization. Optimization is partial, yielding a set of effectively interchangeable media alternatives over which the user is indecisive. In the second subprocess—that of social influence—imitation, deference, and other cues act on the set of interchangeables, yielding a single ultimate choice. If in the social-influence subprocess there are benefits to coordinating with others, group choice crystallizes around a single media alternative. If these benefits are absent, individual choice remains idiosyncratic, with each decisionmaker making random choices within the set of interchangeables. In organizational life, media choice transpires sequentially, with each choice conditioning a succeeding one. In its dynamic form, the present model explicitly incorporates such sequential environments: the twofold choice process transpires iteratively within individual decision sites (in the multiple purchasing decisions of a committee, for example) as well as sequentially across decision sites (from committee to individual, for example). The model generates considerable empirical implications. As decisional ambiguity grows, the rational-choice component of the choice process shrinks, implying upper-bound conditions for the explanatory power of rational-choice statistical models.


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