Taking cues: Sometimes environmental cues can activate thrifty behavior

Mar 31, 2009

Consumers are constantly bombarded with subtle and even subconscious cues from their environment. A new study in the Journal of Consumer Research examines whether these cues activate goals that affect behavior in the long term or momentary desires that fade away.

Authors Aner Sela and Baba Shiv (both Stanford Graduate School of Business) investigated the difference between goals that influence behavior and semantic activation, which has no lingering effect on behavior.

"Passing mindlessly by a discount store on the way to the mall might activate the goal of being frugal, which can sustain for a relatively long duration and influence subsequent purchases at the mall," explain the authors. "Alternatively, the same discount store may simply bring to mind the semantic notion of frugality, without actually activating the lingering motivation to behave frugally."

The difference between the two outcomes, the authors believe, depends on the degree to which the primed concept (like frugality) is perceived as discrepant from the consumer's self-concept. In other words, a person who does not see himself as frugal who is exposed to a prime is more likely to activate a goal of frugality and to pursue that goal until he feels he has fulfilled it. But someone who already believes she is frugal is more likely to respond to the prime in a short-term fashion.

In the experiments, the authors asked a large group of university students to rate the extent to which they saw themselves as physically fit. Then the authors exposed the participants to quick flashes of words related to physical fitness (primes) without participants being aware of the exposure. Finally the participants were asked to select and drink one of two energy : They were told one boosted mental acuity and the other boosted fitness.

"Participants who had rated themselves as unfit to begin with were more likely than people in a control group to select the fitness drink after a long delay, which suggests that nonconscious exposure to the fitness words activated a fitness goal among those people," write the authors. "In contrast, participants who had rated themselves as fit to begin with were more likely than people in a control group to select the fitness drink immediately after exposure to the fitness words, but this effect faded out quickly."

More information: Aner Sela and Baba Shiv. "Unraveling Priming: When Does the Same Prime Goal Activate a Goal versus a Trait?" : October 2009.

Source: University of Chicago (news : web)

Explore further: Creative activities outside work can improve job performance

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Blissfully ignorant: Skip those pesky details

Sep 15, 2008

Wouldn't you like some more information about that cream puff? Not if you just ate it. A new study in the Journal of Consumer Research examined what's known as the "Blissful Ignorance Effect," the way consumers' goals shift ...

'Directed thinking' increases time spent exercising

Jun 24, 2008

"Directed Thinking" involves asking people to think about information related to a topic that they already know which directs them to action. A study in the Journal of Applied Biobehavioral Research shows how "directed thinking" ...

Recommended for you

Newlyweds, be careful what you wish for

11 hours ago

A statistical analysis of the gift "fulfillments" at several hundred online wedding gift registries suggests that wedding guests are caught between a rock and a hard place when it comes to buying an appropriate gift for the ...

Can new understanding avert tragedy?

14 hours ago

As a boy growing up in Syracuse, NY, Sol Hsiang ran an experiment for a school project testing whether plants grow better sprinkled with water vs orange juice. Today, 20 years later, he applies complex statistical ...

Creative activities outside work can improve job performance

Apr 16, 2014

Employees who pursue creative activities outside of work may find that these activities boost their performance on the job, according to a new study by San Francisco State University organizational psychologist Kevin Eschleman ...

User comments : 0

More news stories

Newlyweds, be careful what you wish for

A statistical analysis of the gift "fulfillments" at several hundred online wedding gift registries suggests that wedding guests are caught between a rock and a hard place when it comes to buying an appropriate gift for the ...

Can new understanding avert tragedy?

As a boy growing up in Syracuse, NY, Sol Hsiang ran an experiment for a school project testing whether plants grow better sprinkled with water vs orange juice. Today, 20 years later, he applies complex statistical ...

Roman dig 'transforms understanding' of ancient port

(Phys.org) —Researchers from the universities of Cambridge and Southampton have discovered a new section of the boundary wall of the ancient Roman port of Ostia, proving the city was much larger than previously ...

Crowd-sourcing Britain's Bronze Age

A new joint project by the British Museum and the UCL Institute of Archaeology is seeking online contributions from members of the public to enhance a major British Bronze Age archive and artefact collection.

Better thermal-imaging lens from waste sulfur

Sulfur left over from refining fossil fuels can be transformed into cheap, lightweight, plastic lenses for infrared devices, including night-vision goggles, a University of Arizona-led international team ...

Hackathon team's GoogolPlex gives Siri extra powers

(Phys.org) —Four freshmen at the University of Pennsylvania have taken Apple's personal assistant Siri to behave as a graduate-level executive assistant which, when asked, is capable of adjusting the temperature ...