Ambivalence is Better than Indifference: Behavioral and Neurophysiological Assessment of Ambivalence in Online Environments

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Publication History

Received: October 1, 2020
Revised: November 30, 2021; June 26, 2022
Accepted: July 28, 2022
Published Online as Articles in Advance: May 22, 2023
Published in Issue: June 1, 2023

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Information representations such as ratings and reviews play an important role in assisting users in making decisions in online environments. Prior information systems (IS) research has mostly focused on the role of extreme valence, i.e., the positivity/negativity of information, portrayed by such representations. Yet this bipolar approach discounts how the coexistence of positivity and negativity (i.e., ambivalence) or their absence (i.e., indifference) is formed and leads to distinct attentional processes and outcomes such as purchase decisions. We theorize how and why the valence of information projected through such representations may elicit mixed feelings and influence decision-making in online environments. We conducted four randomized controlled experiments, including an electroencephalography (EEG) study, to disentangle the influence of ambivalence and indifference on decision-making in an online shopping context. We found that ambivalence and indifference to online information distinctly influenced attention and purchase decisions relative to positivity and negativity. Our findings further suggest the inability of incumbent bipolar representations, such as the widely implemented star rating system, to capture the mixed feelings expressed in online content. We propose a bivariate intervention that overcomes the limitations of bipolar representations by not only discerning ambivalence from indifference but also amplifying purchase decisions for products with ambivalent information by at least 50%, compared to incumbent bipolar representations. Our findings advance ongoing research on the role of information valence in online environments and offer implications for practice.
Additional Details
Author Akshat Lakhiwal, Hillol Bala, and Pierre-Majorique Léger
Year 2023
Volume 47
Issue 2
Keywords Ambivalence, indifference, decision-making, NeuroIS, information representation, valence, digital platforms
Page Numbers 705-732
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