Trying to make sense of the world: Why do consumers misunderstand causes and effects?

Nov 15, 2011

Consumers often attempt to match causes to consequences to make sense of events that unfold in their lives or in the world, but this strategy leads to erroneous conclusions, according to a new study in the Journal of Consumer Research.

"Why did my stop working? Why did I get this job? Why did the go down today? People often need to decide which cause, out of a large set of candidate causes, was responsible for an event," write authors Robyn A. LeBoeuf (University of Florida) and Michael I. Norton (Harvard University). "This research shows that people allow arbitrary, unrelated downstream of an event to their views of what caused the event in the first place."

The authors conducted a series of experiments in which they presented participants with an event and a consequence. Some participants learned that the event had a large consequence, and others learned that the same event had a small consequence.

For example, participants in one experiment read about a student whose computer crashed, causing him to lose a term paper. In one scenario, the professor did not grant the student an extension. The student failed the course, did not graduate, and lost a job offer. Other participants read that the professor granted an extension, which allowed the student to graduate and get the job. When it came to deciding whether the computer crash had a large cause (a widespread virus) or a small cause (a malfunctioning cooling fan), the participants who read about the student losing his job were more likely to select the "large cause." And they had a more toward the student's anti-virus software. "These effects arose even though the crash itself was identical in both cases and the consequences were uninformative about the causes," the authors write. The authors found similar results when participants matched causes to consequences in geopolitical and public health issues.

"Life in general, and decision-making in particular, is often fraught with uncertainty; matching causes to consequences may be just one small way in which people manage the largely uncertain world they navigate," the authors conclude.

Explore further: Enhanced communication key to successful teamwork in dynamic environments

More information: Robyn A. LeBoeuf and Michael I. Norton. "Consequence-Cause Matching: Looking to the Consequences of Events to Infer Their Causes." Journal of Consumer Research: June 2012 (published online September 20, 2011).

Provided by University of Chicago Press Journals

5 /5 (2 votes)
add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

How do consumers estimate a good time?

Mar 17, 2011

Consumers estimate they'll spend more time enjoying activities when the tasks are broken down into components, according to a new study in the Journal of Consumer Research. But using the same process for an unpleasant event ...

Look before you leap: New study examines self-control

May 30, 2008

Reckless decision-making can lead to dire consequences when it comes to food, credit cards, or savings. What's the key to making good decisions? A new study in the Journal of Consumer Research outlines a novel method for me ...

How often will you use that treadmill?

Nov 17, 2008

Why not buy that treadmill? You'll be exercising every day, right? A new study
in the Journal of Consumer Research examines why our expectations of our
behavior so often don't match reality.

Recommended for you

Feeling bad at work can be a good thing

3 hours ago

( —Research by the University of Liverpool suggests that, contrary to popular opinion, it can be good to feel bad at work, whilst feeling good in the workplace can also lead to negative outcomes.

3Qs: Citizen journalism in Ferguson

4 hours ago

Tensions have escalated in Ferguson, Missouri, following the Aug. 9 shooting death of Michael Brown, an unarmed African-American teenager, by a white police officer. The incident has led to peaceful protests ...

Social inequality worsens in New Zealand

5 hours ago

Research by Dr Lisa Marriott, an associate professor in Victoria's School of Accounting and Commercial Law, and Dr Dalice Sim, Statistical Consultant in the School of Mathematics, Statistics and Operations Research, builds ...

The changing landscape of religion

Aug 20, 2014

Religion is a key factor in demography, important for projections of future population growth as well as for other social indicators. A new journal, Yearbook of International Religious Demography, is the first to bring a quan ...

User comments : 1

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

not rated yet Nov 16, 2011
Because 'consumers' are not taught deductive reasoning?