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: All together now – three evolutionary perks of singing

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

All together now – three evolutionary perks of singing

Dec 24, 2014

We're enjoying the one time of year when protests of "I can't sing!" are laid aside and we sing carols with others. For some this is a once-a-year special event; the rest of the year is left to the professionals ...

We're simply having an analogue Christmas time

Dec 23, 2014

The British Christmas that Charles Dickens serves up to us is rich in food and warmth, two things that in his day were often thinly stretched throughout the year in many homes. These days, for most of the y ...

User comments : 1

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

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

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.