Interdisciplinary Science of Consumption 2012

Second Biennial Meeting

March 23-24 2012
University of Michigan
Ann Arbor, MI USA

Participation is free but requires pre-registration by February 20 at Speakers and student presenters are automatically registered.


Below are the full titles and abstracts for the talks to be held in 4448 East Hall at 530 Church Street (registration required, contact

Titles and abstracts for the student presentations are here.


James Andreoni
Department of Economics
University of California, San Diego (UCSD)

Title: Avoiding The Ask: A Field Experiment on Altruism, Empathy, and Charitable Giving

Abstract: What triggers giving? We explore this in a randomized natural field experiment during the Salvation Army's annual campaign. Solicitors were at one or both of two main entrances to a supermarket, making the solicitation either easy or difficult to avoid. Additionally, solicitors were either silent, or asked "please give" to passersby. We observed over 17,000 passings over four days, and found dramatic avoidance of the solicitors, but only during a direct ask. Furthermore, asking increased donations 75%. Across all conditions, seeking the solicitor was exceedingly rare. The results do not support static views of altruism, such as inequity aversion, and instead highlight the importance of social cues and psychological features of the giver-receiver interaction. We argue that avoidance could evidence a lack of altruism or self-control strategy to deal with empathic reflexes to give.


Hilke Plassmann
Assistant Professor of Marketing
INSEAD & INSERM (France), The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania

Title: How Expectations Bias Consumption Experiences

Abstract: In this talk, I will review behavioral and neuroscientific studies that investigate how expectations shape our affective experience. Drawing on existing studies in the domain of negative affective experiences (such as pain) and positive affective experiences (such as taste pleasantness), I suggest a multidisciplinary model of how expectation biases alter our subjective consumption experience.

Peter M. Todd
Professor of Cognitive Science, Informatics, and Psychological and Brain Sciences
Indiana University, Bloomington

Title: Decision Heuristics for Food and Foraging

Abstract: We make many decisions each day about food--what to eat, how much, where. Because of the adaptive importance of obtaining nourishment, our cognitive mechanisms for decisions in the food domain have been shaped by evolution to perform effectively and quickly, often on the basis of little information. This fits with broader findings that people usually employ bounded rationality in a wide range of domains--making decisions quickly without much deliberation. Hungry shoppers at a lunch market for instance have to decide when to stop trying to consider more information and make a choice between meals; our research suggests that for many people, only a single good reason can suffice to lead to a choice. Furthermore, people can limit the amount of information available for their decisions by forgetting recent experiences, such as what they ate for breakfast yesterday--but only if that information is no longer useful. There may be even more connection between how we make decisions about food and how we decide about other resources--evolution may have exapted mechanisms from the food foraging domain to work in information foraging, for instance in how we search through our own memories. In this talk, I will show how evolved heuristics for controlling the search for information can lead to boundedly rational decision making, illustrated with our research on food choices and memory foraging.

Scott Rick
Arnold M. & Linda T. Jacob Assistant Professor of Marketing
Ross School of Business
University of Michigan

Title: Winning the Battle but Losing the War: The Psychology of Debt Management

Abstract: Debt is an unpleasant consequence of consumption. How do people manage the debt they accumulate? In this talk, I will consider how people manage multiple debts. If people behave according to normative principles, they should repay the debt with the highest interest rate most quickly. However, several basic biases lead people to pay off the smallest debt first to reduce the total number of outstanding debts and achieve a sense of tangible progress toward debt repayment. We demonstrate in surveys and incentive-compatible experiments that this "debt account aversion" persists even when larger debts have larger interest rates, causing people to leave money on the table. We also found that restricting people's ability to completely pay off small debts helped refocus attention on interest rates, which helped people to reduce overall debt more quickly.

Susan Gelman
Frederick G. L. Huetwell Professor of Psychology
University of Michigan

Title: Concepts of Ownership in Young Children

Abstract: Ownership is a basic human concept. "Mine" is one of children's first words, and even toddlers protest if someone tries to take away a toy they are playing with. But what do young children really understand about ownership? Do they think ownership is just temporary ('it's mine as long as I'm playing with it'), or do they understand that it entails a more enduring relationship?

Learning the rules of ownership requires two potentially subtle ideas. The first idea is that deciding who owns an object depends more on the object's history than on its outward appearances or how much you like it. The second idea is that an object has higher value when it belongs to you than when it does not. (Economists call this bias the "endowment effect", and it might explain why sellers have a tendency to price items higher than buyers wish to pay.) In this talk, I will report a set of experiments that examined both these concepts in children between 2 and 5 years of age. We find that mature ownership concepts, including an endowment effect, emerge early in development, by 3 years of age.

Altogether, these studies show that young preschool children appreciate that there is an invisible history that links the owner with the object, and that persists over time. These studies also raise the question of whether and how adult input might shape children's ownership concepts. I will also briefly describe an ongoing study in which we are studying what messages parents provide to their children about ownership. We hope to understand if and how variation in input relates to parental and child attitudes about their possessions.

Carey K. Morewedge
Assistant Professor of Marketing, BP Junior Faculty Chair
Tepper School of Business
Carnegie Mellon University

Title: Thought for Food: How Imagined Consumption Influences Actual Consumption

Abstract: The consumption of a food typically leads to a decrease in its subsequent intake through habituation--a decrease in one's responsiveness to the food and motivation to obtain it. We demonstrate that habituation to a food item can occur even when its consumption is merely imagined. Our experiments show that people who repeatedly imagine eating a food (such as cheese) many times subsequently consume less of the imagined food than do people who repeatedly imagine eating that food fewer times, imagine eating a different food (such as candy), or do not imagine eating a food. They do so because they desire to eat it less, not because they consider it less palatable. I will present additional experiments testing sensitization effects of imagined consumption on complementary foods (such as peanut butter and jelly) suggesting that sensitization effects have cognitive origins. Together, the results elucidate the role of mental representation in the motivational processes that regulate desire.