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 and consequences (Wang, da Silva Frost, Eastwick, & Ledgerwood, revising for resubmission, JEP:G). I asked participants how much they liked various attributes in the abstract (their summarized preferences), then I showed participants photos of real faces and assessed participants’ experienced liking for attributes (their functional preferences). Results suggest that summarized preferences may be only weakly grounded in people’s functional preferences, and that summarized preferences can be biased by incidental aspects of the context in which people learn about them. Moreover, in a pre-registered study using real dating profiles, summarized preferences predicted important outcomes like situation selection at a distance, suggesting that people’s ideas about liking may serve the important purpose of enabling them to make decisions about events outside of their direct experience.
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 about and concrete experiences of liking. Currently, I am extending this line of work to attributes in specific domains, such as demographic diversity.