Actions speak louder: Why we use our past behavior to determine our current attitudes

Nov 12, 2007

Sometimes it’s difficult for us to remember how we felt about a product. Was that restaurant pretty good or just okay? Was the movie boring or enjoyable?

A new study reveals that, in many of these cases, consumers will use postpurchase actions – and advertising – as a proxy for lost memories, even if these actions are not a good indication of how we actually felt while using the product. In other words, if we gab about a terrible dinner and a boring movie with loved ones, we might mistake the positive memory of talking about the experience for positive memories of the experience itself.

“People use their feelings of liking or disliking elicited during prior experiences to guide decisions about their future,” explains Elizabeth Cowley (University of Sydney). “When reflecting back on prior events, people assume that their behavior was consistent with the feelings they held at the time.”

For example, Cowley had participants view a short excerpt of a film. She then exposed one group to advertisements for the film containing humorous dialogue, asking them to rate the entertainment value of the advertisement. The other group was exposed to facts about the film and asked to rate the informational value. Participants were then asked to make a choice between the film just sampled and three other film clips. Cowley shows that post-experience exposure to a task requiring emotional judgment interfered with the participants’ ability to remember how well they initially liked the clip, while tasks involving unemotional judgments did not interfere.

“When interference reduces the ability to retrieve experience-based feelings, consumers may unconsciously reflect on what they did to infer how they felt because their post-experience behavior is more accessible,” Cowley writes. “The study showed that people are not particularly adept at retrieving their experience-based affective reaction when they have other non-experience based reactions in memory.”

She continues: “Perhaps the behavioral information may have ‘felt right’ because of an implicit [belief] that behaviors are consistent with attitudes.”

Citation: Elizabeth Cowley, “How Enjoyable Was It" Remembering an Affective Reaction to a Previous Consumption Experience.” Journal of Consumer Research: December 2007.

Source: University of Chicago

Explore further: Could summer camp be the key to world peace?

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Lenovo's smart glasses prototype has battery at neck

43 minutes ago

China's PC giant Lenovo last week offered a peek at its Google Glass-competing smart glass prototype, further details of which are to be announced in October. Lenovo's glasses prototype is not an extreme ...

Recommended for you

Could summer camp be the key to world peace?

6 hours ago

According to findings from a new study by University of Chicago Booth School of Business Professor Jane Risen, and Chicago Booth doctoral student Juliana Schroeder, it may at least be a start.

Gender disparities in cognition will not diminish

Jul 28, 2014

The study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, investigated the extent to which improvements in living conditions and educational opportunities over a person's life affect cognitive abilities and th ...

Facial features are the key to first impressions

Jul 28, 2014

A new study by researchers in the Department of Psychology at the University of York shows that it is possible to accurately predict first impressions using measurements of physical features in everyday images of faces, such ...

User comments : 1

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

HarryStottle
not rated yet Nov 27, 2007
this suggests we can expect a new genre of "post consumption" advertising designed to make you believe you enjoyed the product more than you actually did. The aim will be to make it more likely that you speak favourably of the product to others who haven't yet sampled it...