1. Study looks at how consumers choose produce

    April 17, 2017 by Ashley

    From the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences press release:

    Consumers want produce that tickles their taste buds and is easy on the eye, but they think quality fruits and vegetables are a matter of luck, according to University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences researchers.

    The fact that consumers purchase produce to satisfy their senses — not necessarily for its nutrients — should prove particularly important for growers and grocers to understand, UF/IFAS researchers say.

    “They choose based on aroma and appearance,” said Amy Simonne, a professor in the UF/IFAS family, youth and community sciences department and lead author of this research. “Consumers might want to change the way they choose fruit.”

    Jeff Brecht, a UF/IFAS professor of horticultural sciences and a study co-author, said the appearance of produce does not always correlate well with its flavor or aroma.

    Researchers suggest examining produce carefully before purchasing, including thoroughly reading packaging labels. They also recommend using your nose: Fruits that smell great will likely also taste great.

    Consumers like their fruits to be sweet and juicy, and they’re satisfied with the produce they buy, the national survey showed. In general, the 1,220 consumers surveyed think the flavor quality of their produce is a matter of “the luck of the draw,” Brecht said. That’s hardly the case.

    UF/IFAS breeders work with food scientists to find the genes that give fruits and vegetables the finest taste and smell traits. Then the breeders use those genes for traditional breeding of produce that tastes and smells better. Other traits make the produce more resistant to diseases and pests. Still other genes help the produce stay fresh while it’s transported to market and then waits to be bought at the grocery store.

    Fruits and vegetables are packed with vitamins and other nutrients, but most people don’t eat the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s recommended amount of fruits and vegetables. Consumers may not buy as many fruits and vegetables based on sub-par quality, an issue that can be complicated by many factors, including variety, production and postharvest handling, UF/IFAS researchers said. Another barrier can be high cost.

    So UF/IFAS researchers are trying to find ways to get people to buy more nutritious food, including helping them choose great tasting produce.

    Among other survey findings:

    • Out of the six commodities listed in the survey, consumers bought strawberries the most, followed by tomatoes.
    • 30.9 percent of respondents mentioned appearance as most important, followed by price at 28 percent.
    • Some consumers said they would pay up to 25 cents more per pound for better-tasting fruit, the survey showed. But grocers say most consumers will not pay more for better-tasting fruit, Brecht said.
    • Consumers do not like fruits that lack flavor, are not ripe or have bruises.

    Results of the survey can help the produce industry focus on improving taste by optimizing quality, which may help increase consumption and decrease food waste, researchers said.


  2. Some strategies to limit sugary drinks may backfire

    by Ashley

    From the Association for Psychological Science press release:

    In response to policy efforts aimed at limiting individuals’ intake of sugary drinks, businesses could enact various strategies that would allow them to comply with the limits while preserving business and consumer choice. New research shows that one of these strategies – offering smaller cup sizes with free refills – can actually increase individual consumption of sugary drinks. The findings are published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.

    “Our research provides insight into the effectiveness of a portion limit policy,” explains behavioral scientist Leslie John of Harvard Business School, first author on the research. “We identify one circumstance – bundling – where the reduction in purchasing of sugar-sweetened beverages is likely to be realized, and another – refills – where the policy can in certain cases have an unintended consequence of increasing consumption.”

    The research was prompted by recent policy efforts, such as a 2012 regulation passed by the New York City Board of Health that restricted sugary drinks sold at restaurants and other food outlets to a maximum serving size of 16 ounces. The regulation was ultimately overturned but it generated heated debate about the appropriateness and effectiveness of addressing public health issues through such means. John and colleagues Grant Donnelly (Harvard Business School) and Christina Roberto (University of Pennsylvania) wondered what the real-life effects of such a policy might be.

    One way businesses could respond to a portion limit without sacrificing service would be to divide a large drink into two smaller servings, provided together as a bundle. In the first experiment, 623 participants came to the lab and were given an opportunity to buy either a medium or large iced tea or lemonade to drink while they completed other tasks. Importantly, the medium size was always served in one 16-oz cup, but the large was sometimes offered in one 24-oz cup and sometimes bundled as two 12-oz cups.

    The results showed that bundling seemed to diminish participants’ interest in buying the larger option: People were less likely to buy a large drink when it was bundled than when it was presented as one serving. However, it did not affect the further downstream behavior of consumption.

    But what would happen if participants were offered free refills instead of a bundle? In a second experiment, John and colleagues presented drink options to another group of 470 participants. In some cases, the large drink offered was one 24-oz drink, while in other cases it was a 16-oz drink with free refills. Having to get refills did not seem to deter participants: People were just as likely to buy a large single serving as they were a somewhat smaller serving with refills.

    Importantly, most of the people who chose to buy the drink with refills did end up getting a refill, and they tended to consume more overall: Participants consumed 44% more calories when they had a drink with refills than when they had a larger single drink.

    This may have happened, the researchers surmise, because consumers wanted to get their “money’s worth” – that is, they consumed more of the refill since they had already paid for it.

    But data from two additional experiments indicate that this unintended increase in consumption can be dampened somewhat by requiring people to get the refills themselves.

    “Taken together, these results suggest that this method of complying with a sugary-drink portion limit could have the perverse effect of increasing consumption,” the researchers write. “However, requiring the participants to stand up and walk a tiny distance to obtain their refills helped to curb it.”

    The findings underscore the role that contextual cues – such as size perception and social image concerns – play in driving what and how much we consume. Harnessing these cues provides one strategy for promoting healthy behavior that preserves individual choice and minimizes impact on businesses, but more research is needed to understand the unintended consequences such strategies might have, John and colleagues conclude.


  3. The secret to staying motivated

    April 11, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Society for Consumer Psychology press release:

    Have you ever started off well on a new goal such as losing weight or saving more money, only to find that motivation fizzles after a period of time?

    Researchers from the University of Winnipeg and University of Manitoba have discovered one possible explanation: Our source of motivation changes as we make progress toward a goal. Their findings are available online in the Journal of Consumer Psychology.

    In the study investigators predicted that during the early stages of pursuing a goal, participants would be motivated by hopes, aspirations and positive aspects of reaching their desired outcome. For example, people who wanted to lose 20 pounds would imagine their appearance at a desired weight, buying new clothes and feeling more energy. This is known as a “promotion motivation,” and people in this mindset are motivated by positive things they can to do make progress, such as exercising more and eating more fruits and vegetables.

    As people drew closer to reaching their goals, however, the researchers predicted that people would switch to a “prevention motivation” mindset. Now they would be motivated by their responsibilities, duties and the desire to avoid something negative. People trying to lose 20 pounds might think about the disappointment of possibly falling short of the weight loss goal or not fitting into a coveted piece of clothing. They would start focusing on things to avoid doing wrong, such as steering clear of dessert and a sedentary lifestyle.

    The researchers conducted five experiments, and found that their prediction was correct: motivation switched from promotion to prevention as study participants made progress on their goals.

    “Generally speaking, people in North America are predominantly promotion-focused, so they are good at starting goals, but not as good at accomplishing them,” says Olya Bullard, PhD, an assistant professor at the University of Winnipeg in Manitoba, Canada and lead author of the study. “My hope is that these findings will help people attain their goals.”

    The results of the study suggest that people may have better luck sustaining motivation in the late stages if they focus on what to avoid in order to reach their goals. For those who are trying to save money for a house or a trip, for example, initially it may work to pursue positive saving strategies like getting a higher paying job or investing money. Later in the process, focus on avoidance strategies like going out to dinner less often or forgoing expensive purchases.

    These findings also have implications for marketers, Bullard says. Companies can frame their advertisements based on whether consumers are in early or later stages of pursuing their goals. For example, a gym catering to people who are just starting to get in shape could emphasize the exciting opportunities and latest fitness technology at the gym that will help members achieve their aspirations. On the other hand, an ad for a gym catering for people well on their way to reaching a fitness goal could emphasize safe and proven technologies that will secure expectations for fitness and offer “satisfaction” guarantees.


  4. Lack of leisure: Is busyness the new status symbol?

    April 9, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Journal of Consumer Research press release:

    Long gone are the days when a life of material excess and endless leisure time signified prestige. According to a new study in the Journal of Consumer Research, Americans increasingly perceive busy and overworked people as having high status.

    “We examined how signaling busyness at work impacts perceptions of status in the eyes of others,” write authors Silvia Bellezza (Columbia University), Neeru Paharia, and Anat Keinan (both Harvard University). “We found that the more we believe that people have the opportunity for social affirmation based on hard work, the more we tend to think that people who skip leisure and work all the time are of higher standing.”

    High-status Americans a generation ago might have boasted about their lives of leisure, but today they’re more likely to engage in humblebrag, telling those around them how they “have no life” or desperately need a vacation.

    To explore this phenomenon, the authors conducted a series of studies, drawing participants mostly from Italy and the US. While busyness at work is associated with high status among Americans, the effect is reversed for Italians, who still view a leisurely life as representative of high status.

    Further, the authors found that the use of products and services showcasing one’s busyness can also convey status. For instance, the online shopping and delivery grocery brand Peapod signals status just as much as expensive brands, such as Whole Foods, by virtue of its associations with timesaving and a busy lifestyle.

    “We uncovered an alternative type of conspicuous consumption that operated by shifting the focus from the preciousness and scarcity of goods to the preciousness and scarcity of individuals,” the authors conclude. “People’s social-mobility beliefs are psychologically driven by the perception that busy individuals possess desirable characteristics, leading them to be viewed as scarce and in demand.”


  5. Price awareness can decrease satisfaction

    April 6, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Society for Consumer Psychology press release:

    Most people who buy a new car, electronic device or music album online want to enjoy the purchase as long as possible, but researchers have discovered something that decreases our satisfaction more quickly.

    The investigators conducted a series of seven experiments in which consumers used a product over a period of time, and they found that enjoyment of the experience declined faster for people who were aware of the product’s price. Their findings are available online in the Journal of Consumer Psychology.

    Being reminded of the price makes the experience less relaxing,” says Kelly Haws, PhD, a professor at Vanderbilt University and lead author of the study. “This is due to the fact that we tend to evaluate the experience more critically when it’s associated with money.”

    In one experiment, participants selected five songs online and listened to each song three times. One group saw the song’s price of 99 cents as they were listening, but the price was not listed for the other group. Then the participants rated the songs on a scale of 1 to 100. After listening the first time, both groups gave most songs a rating of approximately 80. After listening the third time, the group with price awareness had dropped to a rating of about 30, while the other group had only dropped to 60.

    “The negative effect of pricing only emerged over time, not at the beginning,” Haws says.

    The researchers had similar findings when participants retrieved M&Ms from a gumball machine. When people saw the price of the M&Ms on the machine, their enjoyment of the snack dropped more quickly over time.

    For consumers, the findings suggest that people will enjoy an experience longer if they avoid focusing on the price.

    “If you are going on a date, don’t talk about the cost,” Haws says. “Or if you are going to an amusement park where the lines are long, thinking too much about the price of admission will steal away from your enjoyment of the experience.”

    For marketers, the study suggests that it may be beneficial to separate the price of a product from the experience. This could prevent consumer burnout, which leads people to stop buying a product and switch to another one.

    The study also has implications for people who are actually trying to stop enjoying an experience. For example, people who are trying to eat less junk food or cut down on spending may benefit from focusing on prices more often.


  6. Products can be pals when you’re lonely, but it may cost you, study finds

    April 2, 2017 by Ashley

    From the University of Kansas press release:

    The Liberty Mutual commercial mentions naming your car Brad and considering him part of your family.

    It’s easy to try to carry on a conversation with Siri on your iPhone or Amazon’s Alexa device from your living room.

    As technology has become an even bigger part of our lives, do electronic products and machines now help fill a void when we feel lonely?

    According to a new study that includes a University of Kansas marketing professor, it appears these humanlike products do keep people from seeking out normal human interaction, which is typically how people try to recover from loneliness. However, there are limits to this phenomenon, and the long-term consequences are unclear, the researchers said.

    “Generally, when people feel socially excluded, they seek out other ways of compensating, like exaggerating their number of Facebook friends or engaging in prosocial behaviors to seek out interaction with other people,” said Jenny Olson, assistant professor of marketing in the KU School of Business. “When you introduce a human-like product, those compensatory behaviors stop.”

    A leading academic marketing journal, the Journal of Consumer Research, recently published the findings online of Olson, lead author James Mourey of DePaul University and Carolyn Yoon of the University of Michigan.

    In four experiments, the researchers found evidence that people who felt socially excluded would exhibit those compensating behaviors unless they were given the opportunity to interact with an anthropomorphic product.

    To establish feelings of loneliness, participants either wrote about an important time in their lives when they felt excluded — such as being stood up for the prom — or they played an online game of “catch” in which other participants stopped throwing them the ball and chose others after a few initial tosses. As part of the game, participants believed they were playing with real people online, but the other players were computerized.

    However, after engaging with a Roomba vacuum whose design made it seem like it was smiling or when asked to think about their cellphone in humanlike terms, such as “how much it helps you,” participants would not feel the need to plan to spend time talking to family or friends or seek out volunteer opportunities.

    However, Olson and Mourey said the ability for these products to replace human contact has its limits because certain statements seemed to snap participants back to reality.

    “As soon as we tell people we know that it looks like the Roomba is smiling, they seemed to realize it was a machine and not a person,” Olson said. “The effect goes away. This seems to be happening on a very subconscious level.”

    “Alexa isn’t a perfect replacement for your friend Alexis,” Mourey said. “But the virtual assistant can affect your social needs.”

    Olson said the research could be important for consumers to realize how these types of products could thwart their motivation to interact with real people, especially because so many new products feature interactivity.

    “If someone notices they are talking more to Siri lately, maybe that has something to do with feeling lonely,” she said. “From that standpoint, it’s important to be aware of it.”

    The study’s findings might help marketers acknowledge it is possible to design products that might increase the well-being of lonely individuals without negatively influencing genuine interpersonal interaction.

    “Maybe it is more about bolstering our current relationships,” Olson said, “such as taking a break from screen time and focusing on developing your authentic personal connections.”


  7. Study suggests website design can reduce risk of “incompatible purchases”

    March 14, 2017 by Ashley

    From the European Commission, Joint Research Centre (JRC) media release:

    Small changes in the website design of online shops could significantly reduce the risk of incompatible purchases by customers, concludes a recent JRC study published on 10 March in PLOS ONE. Warning messages appealing to the customer’s emotions and information provided at check-out were the most effective methods of avoiding disappointment.

    Have you ever bought a video game or a DVD online and only noticed when trying to use it, that it is not compatible with your device? While the digital market is growing and the choice for e-commerce platforms and sellers is expanding, consumer policies have to ensure that the rules and regulations that apply to online shopping are up-to-date and effectively protect all customers.

    Laboratory experiment to test effectiveness of nudges

    The JRC conducted a laboratory experiment with 626 participants to test whether web design could reduce the number of incompatible purchases online. During the experiment, the participants of different age, gender and educational backgrounds had virtual currency to purchase digital products on an e-commerce website, and then test their purchases.

    The purpose of this experiment was to see how the participants reacted to the different kind of nudges, i.e. warning messages and compatibility information provided by the e-commerce website regarding the products they were purchasing.

    Emotive warnings and information at checkout most effective

    Messages appealing to the customer’s emotions, such as ‘To avoid disappointment, please ensure that the product you are buying is compatible with your device,” combined with an emoticon (a sad face) were the most effective in preventing a participant from purchasing an incompatible product. Surprisingly, a traditional warning message, such as “Please ensure that the product you are buying is compatible with your device” was as effective as no warning message at all.

    The study also concluded that compatibility information provided at the moment of the check-out was more effective than the same information provided on the product description page, and that logos were more effective than text.

    Elderly people more likely to purchase incompatible products online

    Although older consumers have greater shopping experience and a smarter and more sophisticated choice process when it comes to traditional shopping, the study confirmed that they are disadvantaged in online shopping environments. Because of difficulties linked to processing information and using the Internet effectively, as well as lack of social networks online which would help them to navigate the electronic market place, they are more likely to buy incompatible products.

    The study also concluded that the level of education had no impact on the final results.

    Safe online shopping at heart of EU consumer policy

    Ensuring safe and satisfactory online shopping experience for all customers is part of the EU policy objectives linked to consumer protection and the Digital Single Market. The Consumer Rights Directive (2011/83/EU) contains specific provisions on online shopping which require that consumers are informed about the main characteristics, functionality and interoperability of the products they are purchasing. However, even when the information is available, it might be hidden or consumers might not be able to understand or interpret it, which leads to mistakes, disappointment, frustration and ultimately lack of trust in online shopping.

    The results of this study indicate that the right kind of nudges would be an effective solution for encouraging safe and satisfactory online shopping. With small changes to the website design, e-commerce platform owners could avoid disappointed customers and increase the usability of their website.

    The study aims to feed into policies and regulations at EU level to protect consumers, in particular vulnerable consumer groups.


  8. Retail therapy for jealous partners

    January 26, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Society for Consumer Psychology media release:

    Have you ever felt jealous about the attention your romantic partner was giving to someone else? Perhaps your significant other seems to be enjoying a conversation with someone a little too much, or a co-worker is flirting with your partner at a company holiday party.

    Researcher Xun (Irene) Huang, PhD, was eager to investigate whether these feelings of jealously motivated consumers to buy things that were more likely to recapture the attention of their partners. She and her team conducted a series of five different experiments, and the results revealed that feelings of jealousy increase the desire for eye-catching products — such as a bright colored coat instead of a dull-colored one, or a T-shirt with a big logo design versus a low-key design. A summary of their findings is available online in the Journal of Consumer Psychology.

    We believe that this effect is not just restricted to jealousy in romantic relationships,” says Huang, a professor at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore. “Children can be jealous of a sibling’s relationship with their parents, or workers might be jealous of a colleague’s close relationship with a supervisor.”

    The researchers also found that the desire for eye-grabbing products disappeared when there was little chance that the product would be noticed by others in public. Participants who were experiencing feelings of jealously in one experiment were more likely to buy a noticeable gold lamp for their office, a public place. But if they were buying a lamp for their bedroom, interest in a gold lamp versus a plain grey one was equal.

    The researchers were surprised to discover that the desire to recapture someone’s attention with eye-catching products even outweighed the risk of public embarrassment. In one experiment, participants were asked to imagine that they had been invited to a party. One group had been invited to a costume party organized by friends, and the other group had been invited to a formal welcoming party for new staff members at their company.

    Then they were asked to choose whether they’d prefer to wear an ordinary pair of sunglasses to the party or a unique and eye-catching pair. The researchers found that participants who were experiencing feelings of jealously opted to wear the eye-catching sunglasses to both types of parties, even though they could garner negative attention for this at a formal work party.

    These findings also have implications for marketing, Huang says. Print advertisements and in-store displays can capture situations in which jealously is at play, which could motivate consumers to buy products that will attract someone’s attention. Television commercials that promote attention-grabbing products might also be effective during sit-coms in which jealously is a common theme.


  9. Modeling shifting beliefs in a complex social environment

    October 21, 2016 by Ashley

    From the American Association for the Advancement of Science media release:

    divorce separation coupleA new model is allowing scientists to explore how changing an individual’s certainty in the belief on the truth of one statement leads to changes in their beliefs on the truth of others. This tool could help to answer questions about individuals’ likelihoods of being persuaded to a new belief. People rarely form opinions by merely accepting or rejecting the social consensus of others, studies have shown.

    For example, individuals who reject evolutionary theory and human-made climate change may be aware of the scientific consensuses on these subjects, but reject the ideas anyway, as other, complex social and environmental factors influence their ultimate opinions.

    Here, using a model designed to represent social influence among individuals with multiple beliefs, Noah Friedken and colleagues provide a step toward understanding this phenomenon.

    Their work extends the so-called Friedkin-Johnson model, which explores how individuals form opinions in complex circumstances, by better accounting for the power of underlying beliefs (for example, the belief that human civilization is too insignificant to alter the global environment, which may prevent someone from believing in humanmade climate change).

    Friedkin and colleagues incorporate an “intrapersonal” influence mechanism in their modeling framework, in which acceptance of one proposition influences the acceptance of others. Using this framework, the researchers performed a theoretical test that looked at what happened when beliefs regarding the trustworthiness of evidence on the existence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq changed in the U.S., and how that in turn impacted views on whether the invasion of Iraq was justified.

    They characterized how beliefs, either held by a few or many, can influence interpersonal networks. The work is further explored by Carter Butts in a related Perspective.


  10. Game theory research reveals fragility of common resources

    September 29, 2016 by Ashley

    From the Purdue University media release:

    gambling toolsNew research in game theory shows that people are naturally predisposed to over-use “common-pool resources” such as transportation systems and fisheries even if it risks failure of the system, to the detriment of society as a whole.

    The ongoing research harnesses the Nash equilibrium, developed by Nobel laureate John Nash, whose life was chronicled in the film “A Beautiful Mind,” and also applies “prospect theory,” which describes how people make decisions when there is uncertainty and risk.

    The research could have implications for the management of engineered systems such as the power grid, communications systems, distribution systems, and online file sharing systems, along with natural systems such as fisheries.

    “We are surrounded by large-scale complex systems, and as engineers we are trying to figure out how to design systems to be more robust and secure,” said Shreyas Sundaram, an assistant professor in Purdue University’s School of Electrical and Computer Engineering. “One aspect would be how you could engineer systems so that the incentives for people to use them are aligned with perhaps what’s best for society. As a government, what sorts of things can you do to make sure people use systems in a responsible manner?”

    Doctoral student Ashish Hota is leading the research, which is the focus of his thesis.

    “The main theoretical framework we are using is the language of game theory, which concerns the analysis of decision making by multiple individuals when the benefits of their decisions depend on what other people are doing,” Sundaram said. “At a Nash equilibrium, people selfishly select options that will yield the highest benefit for them, often to the detriment of their collective benefit.

    Findings are detailed in a research paper that appeared in the July issue of the game-theory journal Games and Economic Behavior.

    An example of a Nash equilibrium is illustrated in the so-called “prisoner’s dilemma,” where two robbers are caught by police and questioned independently. They would both benefit by agreeing ahead of time not to squeal on each other.

    The problem with this rational thinking is that if I know you are not going to rat me out, I stand to benefit more by ratting you out and optimizing my chances of getting away with it,” Sundaram said. “So the only Nash equilibrium is for both of you to rat each other out. If your accomplice is ratting you out there is no benefit in you not ratting him out because you are going to take more of the blame for the crime.”

    Understanding the behavior at the Nash equilibrium can be challenging when the outcomes are uncertain. Complicating matters is that different people have different risk preferences.

    In many applications, people decide how much of a resource to use, and they know that if they use a certain amount and if others use a certain amount they are going to get some return, but at the risk that the resource is going to fail,” he said.

    Sundaram and Hota have analyzed the Nash equilibrium when risk preferences are modeled according to prospect theory, a Nobel-prize winning theory that captures how humans make decisions in uncertain situations.

    The key is that you have to consider how people actually perceive wins and losses, and this is where prospect theory comes in,” Sundaram said. “Whereas classical models have not looked at how people actually evaluate gains and losses and probabilities, Ashish’s work has been looking at what happens at the Nash equilibrium when we incorporate these more complex risk preferences. We wanted to determine the failure probability, which we refer to as the fragility of the resource, as a function of the risk preferences of the users.”

    In a society that tightly controls the use of resources, failure is less likely.

    “This is why the notion of a Nash equilibrium ends up being key,” he said. “The Nash equilibrium captures the idea that nobody is forcing you to do the right thing. You are doing just what you want to do to optimize your own benefit. If, however, it’s a resource that is very carefully managed by a central authority, the failure probability is lower.”

    The researchers found that the resource has a higher likelihood of failure at the Nash equilibrium under prospect theory.

    “This means human beings will over-utilize their resources, compared to what is predicted by classical models of decision making,” Sundaram said.

    Furthermore, people have differing, or heterogeneous, aversions to losing. In free societies, where people can exercise decisions based on their differing loss aversion, total use of a common resource is higher than otherwise.

    The researchers also are studying how imposing taxes to incentivize human behavior impacts its likelihood of failure.

    Future work will include research to apply the approach to cybersecurity, probing how people make decisions under risk.

    “Similar reasoning can be applied to cybersecurity,” Hota said. “Understanding how people perceive security risks is critical toward designing more secure systems.”