Attribute preferences—liking for dimensions of something or someone—have been studied across multiple literatures (e.g., attitudes, mate preferences, consumer behaviors, and non-human animal behaviors). Yet these literatures have traditionally taken different approaches of conceptualizing and measuring attribute preferences. One way of studying attribute preferences characterizes them as summary evaluations that tend to be measured via self-report (“summarized attribute preferences”). Another way of studying attribute preferences characterizes them as the extent to which levels of attributes predict liking for targets with those attributes (“functional attribute preferences”; Ledgerwood, Eastwick, & Smith, 2018).
Do summarized and functional preferences reflect merely two ways of measuring the same evaluative construct, or do they differ in meaningful ways? Addressing this question, my work has found that summarized and functional preferences have distinct antecedents (Wang, da Silva Frost, Eastwick, & Ledgerwood, in prep). Contextual factors, such as how much people like targets on average, could affect formation of summarized preferences, even when functional preferences were held constant. Moreover, summarized and functional preferences have distinct consequences as well: When participants decided what situations to enter (e.g., signing up for dating websites with intelligent versus confident users), summarized preferences were a stronger predictor for participants who did not sample the situations, but functional preferences were a stronger predictor for participants who sampled the situations. This finding suggests that people might enter a situation based on their ideas of liking, but actually experience a different level of liking once they are in the situation.
Taken together, this work provides a new look at attribute preferences and supports summarized and functional preferences as distinct psychological constructs that respectively reflect abstract ideas and concrete experiences of liking. Currently, I am extending this line of work to attributes in specific domains; one project, for example, explores how ideas about preferences for physical attractiveness might affect the relations between experienced attractiveness and romantic desire (Wang & Eastwick, in progress).