Don't stand so close to me: Proximity defines how we think of contagion

June 12, 2009

We judge probability and make risk judgments all the time, such as when we try new products or consider which stocks to trade. It would seem that our decisions would be rational and based on concrete factors; however, we are not always so pragmatic. Some judgments are not based solely on relevant information but can be influenced by subjective beliefs.

For example, most of us would probably cringe at the thought of drinking a sugar solution that was labeled "sodium cyanide," even if we knew it was perfectly safe to drink. According to new research by consumer psychologists Arul Mishra and Himanshu Mishra from the University of Utah and Dhananjay Nayakankuppam from the University of Iowa, something as mundane as how objects are grouped together can have a significant impact on the decisions we make.

Volunteers selected a mug from one of two groups. In one group, the wrapped-up mugs were spaced far apart, while in the other group they were closer together. Some of the volunteers were told that one of the mugs was defective while the other volunteers were told that one of the mugs contained a gift coupon.

The volunteers who were told that one of the mugs contained a gift coupon selected from the mugs which were close together. Conversely, the volunteers who were informed that one of the mugs was defective chose from the group of mugs that were spaced far apart.

The researchers then performed a follow-up experiment: volunteers had to choose among ketchup bottles (as before, the bottles were in two groups, close together or spaced farther apart). This time, some of the participants were told that either one or three of the bottles had defective lids, while the remaining participants were told that either one or three of the bottles contained gift coupons. It turns out that the volunteers who were told that three of the bottles had defective lids were the most likely to choose from the spaced apart group and the volunteers who thought that three of the bottles contained gift coupons were the most likely to choose from the closely spaced group.

These results, reported in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science, reveal that we tend to view products that are grouped close together as being "contagious." It appears that if one of the products has a prominent good or bad quality, we will see that quality as spreading among other objects which are close by, a phenomenon known as the "group-contagion effect." As the authors noted, these findings suggest that people tend "to choose from groups of closely arranged products in the gain domain and from groups of widely spaced products in the loss domain."

Source: Association for (news : web)

Explore further: Gender biases in leadership selection during competitions within and between groups

Related Stories

Did I see what I think I saw?

January 28, 2009

Eyewitness testimony is a crucial part of many criminal trials even though research increasingly suggests that it may not be as accurate as we (and many lawyers) would like it to be. For example, if you witness a man in a ...

Marching to the beat of the same drum improves teamwork

January 28, 2009

Armies train by marching in step. Religions around the world incorporate many forms of singing and chanting into their rituals. Citizens sing the National Anthem before sporting events. Why do we participate in these various ...

Researcher Develops Process for Making 'Unbreakable' Glass

April 3, 2009

Wine glasses that don’t shatter? Baby bottles that don’t break? Coffee mugs that last generations? All are possible with a new process for strengthening glass and ceramics developed by an Alfred University researcher.

Recommended for you

How the finch changes its tune

August 3, 2015

Like top musicians, songbirds train from a young age to weed out errors and trim variability from their songs, ultimately becoming consistent and reliable performers. But as with human musicians, even the best are not machines. ...

Cow embryos reveal new type of chromosome chimera

May 27, 2016

I've often wondered what happens between the time an egg is fertilized and the time the ball of cells that it becomes nestles into the uterine lining. It's a period that we know very little about, a black box of developmental ...

Shaving time to test antidotes for nerve agents

February 29, 2016

Imagine you wanted to know how much energy it took to bike up a mountain, but couldn't finish the ride to the peak yourself. So, to get the total energy required, you and a team of friends strap energy meters to your bikes ...


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.