Interdisciplinary Science of Consumption 2012

Second Meeting on: The Interdisciplinary Science of Consumption


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

Titles and abstracts for the faculty presentations are here. 


Group 1

Laura Scherer
Center for Bioethics and Social Sciences in Medicine
University of Michigan

Title: When Everything is Risky: Order Effects in Consumer Judgements of BPA and Its Alternatives 

Abstract: Bisphenol A, or BPA, is a plastic additive that is used in many consumer products. BPA is also an endocrine disruptor, and as a result there has been extensive research to determine whether BPA affects human health. Yet the state of the science is ambiguous, with some studies showing small health effects, an others showing no effects at all. In spite of these ambiguities, there has been strong consumer demand for “BPA-Free” products. Unfortunately, when BPA is removed from plastics it must be replaced with alternative chemicals that are usually less well tested than BPA. This state of affairs leaves consumers with a choice between a chemical that is well studied but potentially risky, versus a chemical that has not been studied and could be better or worse.We sought to investigate how consumers compare these two types of risks and make choices between them. To do this, we presented participants with information about BPA as well as an alternative chemical (PET) that has not been well studied. Half of participants read about BPA first, and the rest read about PET first. Results showed that when BPA and PET were evaluated separately, they were viewed as equally risky. Yet when evaluated jointly, participants favored the chemical that they read about first, regardless of whether that chemical was BPA or PET. This suggests that consumer choices about products for which scientific ambiguity exists may be guided less by what people read and more by the order in which they read it.

Stephanie M. Carpenter
Graduate Student in Marketing
University of Michigan, Ross School of Business

Title: Shifting away from discomfort: Reducing decision difficulty through pre-decisional affect regulation 

Abstract: The present research examined whether shifting attribute assessments and dimensional importance weights over time to be consistent with a choice leaning (i.e., coherence shifting or pre-decision distortion) is a strategy used reliably by some individuals to regulate feelings of discomfort and resolve decision difficulty. Using multiple methods, our predictions were tested across three studies. All participants completed coherence shifting tasks whereby they rated the attribute desirability and dimensional importance weightings of two job offers at three different time points. Physiological skin conductance responses (SCRs) were measured to assess increased arousal associated with discomfort. Coherence shifting was found to significantly reduce SCRs and decrease perceived decision difficulty. Participants who were induced into a high discomfort feeling state also engaged in less coherence shifting unless they self-reported a tendency to regulate emotions. Finally, some individuals were found to consistently shift across different decision occasions and this pattern of coherence shifting was associated with self-reported emotion regulation tendencies. These findings support our model suggesting that difficult decisions involving feature conflict are capable of producing feelings of discomfort, which some individuals manage or regulate via pre-decisional coherence shifting. Our findings provide important implications for why people use different choice strategies in complex or difficult consumption environments.

Grant Donnelly
Department of Psychology
San Francisco State University

Title: Poor Money Management Mediates the Materialism - Compulsive Buying Link 

Abstract: Previous research has linked compulsive buying and materialism; further, materialism predicts less instances of money management and is a possible antecedent to compulsive buying. Though the compulsive buying-materialism link has been explained by emotional, identity related buying motives, and life dissatisfaction, the purpose of the current study is to determine if a lack of money management may also be a mediator of the compulsive buying-materialism link. Participants (N = 822) completed online surveys that assessed their material values, money management strategies, and compulsive as well as impulsive buying tendencies. The mediation models demonstrated that poor money management partially mediates the relation between materialism and compulsive buying; however, poor money management does not mediate the relation between materialism and emotional impulsive consumption. We conclude that active money management may decrease compulsive unplanned purchases.

Jenny Olson
Graduate Student in Marketing
University of Michigan, Ross School of Business

Title: When is Saving Sexy? The Role of Construal Level in Shaping the Appeal of Savers and Spenders as Romantic Relationship Partners 

Abstract: Who is more appealing as a potential mate: a saver or a spender? Using construal level theory (Trope & Liberman, 2003) as a guiding framework, the present research explores the influence of one’s construal-level mindset on the appeal of potential mates that differ in their monetary habits. Two studies were conducted in which participants were first induced to have either a concrete or abstract mindset. Participants were then exposed to potential mates of the opposite sex, which were presented as self-described savers or spenders. Results from Study 1 demonstrate that when participants are thinking concretely, attending to low-level aspects of the situation, savers are significantly more appealing as relationship partners than spenders. When participants are thinking abstractly, attending to high-level aspects of the situation, the attraction “gap” between savers and spenders disappears. Further analysis indicates that construal-level mindset does not influence what inferences participants draw from the saver/spender labels, but instead the weight placed upon those inferences. Study 2 replicates this pattern of findings and suggests that those with a concrete mindset value responsibility in a mate but do not value excitement, which is why they are attracted to a self-described saver. Abstract thinkers appear to have the opposite values, reducing the appeal of savers. 

Beatriz Pereira
Graduate Student in Marketing
University of Michigan, Ross School of Business

Title: The Benefits of Retail Therapy: Buying Alleviates Sadness 

Abstract: People often go shopping when feeling sad, but whether and why shopping effectively alleviates sadness has remained an open question. We propose that the choices inherent in shopping alleviate sadness by restoring a sense of control, which is perceived to be lost when one is sad. To examine the effectiveness of “retail therapy,” we subjected participants to a sadness–inducing video in two experiments. In Study 1, participants either completed a product sorting task (“browsers”), or chose products in a hypothetical purchase task (“buyers”). Buyers’ sadness returned to baseline levels after the task, while browsers’ sadness did not, showing that even hypothetical buying alleviates sadness. In Study 2, participants could choose and buy one product with their own money (“buyers” or “non-buyers”), or were just asked to evaluate products (“browsers”). Participants who purchased a good returned to their baseline sadness level, while non-buyers and browsers were sadder at the end of the experiment than they were at baseline. A third study examined whether retail therapy can alleviate other negative emotions. Participants watched an anger-inducing video, an emotion that is as unpleasant as sadness, but is associated with greater personal control. As expected, all conditions reported higher anger at the end, compared to baseline. However, as in study 2, buyers were no sadder at the end of the experiment, while non-buyers and browsers were sadder. Our results do not support a broader conclusion that shopping alleviates all negative affect. Instead, our evidence suggests that buying alleviates sadness in particular.


Group 2

Ed O'Brien
Graduate Student in Social Psychology
University of Michigan

Title: Enjoying the stuff we consume: The role of time and timing 

Abstract: What makes the stuff we consume – from iPhones to dinner parties – enjoyable? Although some experiences may be objectively pleasant, hedonic preferences are largely constructed on the spot (Lichtenstein & Slovic, 2006). This talk highlights the influence of time and timing on the construction of enjoyment. First, our perception of how quickly time passes can act as a heuristic cue of whether something is enjoyable. In 2 studies we manipulated duration by priming participants to think of time as a limited resource. Primed participants judged routine tasks as passing more slowly, as less interesting, and as a greater waste of time (O’Brien, Anastasio, & Bushman, 2011). This suggests that the speed at which time seems to pass is an indirect measure of enjoyment. Second, when we experience something and the order in which it is presented can also influence whether something is enjoyable. Whereas prior research highlights the power of first impressions (Willis & Todorov, 2006), we present 3 studies on the power of lasts. Chocolates, dating profiles, and nasty smells that were randomly presented as the “last item” in a series were judged more positively than when they were presented simply as the “next item” (O’Brien & Ellsworth, 2012). This suggests that people have a positivity bias toward end experiences: we like something more when it is the last one available. Together, these studies suggest that hedonic consumption has a strong temporal component. Both time (how quick?) and timing (when?) can make the stuff we consume more or less enjoyable.

Young Eun Huh
Marketing Department
Carnegie Mellon University

Title: Cross-Category Substitution in Food Consumption 

Abstract: When a desired option is unavailable, consumers often switch to a substitute. Substitution can occur within the same category and also across different product categories. Although cross-category substitution is common, surprisingly little research has examined how cross-category substitutes influence consumption experiences. The current research examined how consumption of cross-category substitutes influences consumption of the desired target, especially in food consumption. Specifically, we show that although most consumers prefer a within-category substitute to a cross-category substitute, the cross-category substitute is more effective in reducing the craving for the target food. Experiment 1 showed that when a target (premium chocolate) was unavailable, 73% participants chose and consumed a within-category substitute (store brand chocolate) as compared to only 27% chose a cross-category substitute (granola bar) to satisfy their craving for the target. Experiment 2 and 3 examined whether consuming a within-category substitute actually satisfies their craving for the target better than a cross-category substitute as most consumers predicted. We found that consuming a cross-category substitute actually satisfies the consumer’s need better than consuming a within-category substitute. Participants who consumed a cross-category substitute subsequently consumed less of the target than those who consumed a within-category substitute (Experiment 2). The results suggest that consumption of a cross-category substitute decreased the wanting, but not the liking, for the target as compared to consumption of a within-category substitute (Experiment 3). This research deepens our understanding of the psychological processes that governs consumers’ cravings for and intake of food, especially substitutes.

Louise Meilleur
Graduate Student
Indiana University

Title: A quantitative and qualitative analysis of food waste within sororities and fraternities at Indiana University 

Abstract: In light of a growing global population, issues of food production, food security and consumption have come to the fore in food studies. Often overlooked in these discussions are available foods that go uneaten. Forwarding the idea that we must confront issues of food waste in discussions of food procurement and consumption in the twenty-first century, this work presents an analysis of food waste garnered from research at sororities and fraternities at Indiana University. Institutional dining spaces allow for copious data collection on the dining habits of individuals within a uniform space, and offer unique insights into patterns of food consumption and waste. We employ behavioral, temporal and environmental variables in order to assess their impact on food wastage by individuals within and across residential dining spaces. Additionally, this paper will discuss methodological considerations of in situ food consumption and food waste research.

Sara Minard
Graduate Student, Quantitative Psychology
Indiana University

Title: Nudging Food Choices: Subtly directing attention towards healthier choices. 

Abstract: We tested whether subtle manipulations of attention would result in healthier food choices when participants were offered a free snack. Previous research indicates the existence of a mental representation of the number line. In addition to magnitude information, numbers may also convey spatial information, whereby the number “1” can direct attention left, and the number “9” can direct attention right. Based on this hypothesis we tested whether the presentation of a “1”, “9”, or a blank (control) in between two snack options, one healthy (Baked Lays) and one unhealthy (Regular Lays), could influence participant’s choice. The location of the healthy option (Baked Lays) was counterbalanced; half the time it was shown on the left of the stimulus, half the time on the right. We found that, as expected, when the healthy option was presented on the right, with a “9” in the middle, participants were more likely to choose the healthy option. Conversely, when the unhealthy option was presented on the right, with a “9” in between the two options, more participants chose the unhealthy option. This effect was seen despite a left choice bias; in our control condition when no center stimulus was presented, participants chose the option on the left 70% of the time. Our results indicate that people’s nutritional choices can be “nudged” to be healthier by subtly directing their attention towards healthier options.

Irene Scopelliti
Post Doctoral Research Fellow in Marketing
Carnegie Mellon University

Title: Asymmetric Defaults 

Abstract: A default is the choice alternative that people receive unless they explicitly switch to another alternative. Defaults have a powerful impact on choice (Johnson & Goldstein, 2003; Madrian & Shea, 2001). Consequently, defaults can be used by policy makers to increase the choice share of options that provide the greatest long term benefits (Thaler & Sunstein, 2008). People are especially likely to choose default options when their executive resources have been depleted, because depletion increases low-effort, acquiescent response strategies (Baumeister & Heatherton, 1996; Masicampo & Baumeister, 2008). We suggest that the depletion of executive resources results in asymmetric default effects, depending on the nature of the default option. Since depletion reduces the ability to exert self-control, default-effects should be greater when defaults are vices than virtues. Making vices default options will more greatly increase their choice share because depletion and default effects work in covert. Making virtues default options will more weakly affect their choice share because depletion and default effects will then work in opposition. Two experiments that orthogonally manipulate resource depletion and the default option in real choices between a vice and a virtue (i.e., hedonic vs. healthy snacks in study 1; lotteries with smaller but immediate prizes vs. larger but delayed prizes in study 2) support these predictions. Our results indicate that defaults may be less effective than previously assumed, since for depleted individuals they did not increase the choice share of virtues, as is often the intention of policy makers.

Brian Vickers
Department of Psychology
University of Michigan

Title: I want it, but why? Affective and personality influences on hedonic and functional material choice. 

Abstract: While the role of affect is now more common in discussions on decision making, little is known about how specific emotions differentially affect acquisition tendencies. People may be driven to buy accessories to work through the sadness of a break up or purchase extra gas when anxious about finding the next pump. However, research has not clearly separated when drives to improve mood versus prepare to for the future influence material acquisition. In Study 1, we induced feelings of sadness or anxiety and measured the quantities and qualities of items desired using the Object Decision Task (ODT; Preston, Muroff, & Wengrovitz, 2009). As expected, anxiety increased the overall quantity of items acquired by subjects, particularly for useful items, and was associated with enhanced ratings of usefulness for those items. Contrary to expectations, sadness did not increase the quantity or type of items desired. In Study 2, we induced sadness that was either high or low in uncertainty. We found that uncertain sadness raised the overall quantity of items acquired and that the effect in males was especially pronounced. Certain sadness did not change the quantity or qualities of items desired, implicating uncertain appraisals more than sadness per se in material choices. Directions for clinical hoarding, sustainability, and decision making will be discussed. 


Group 3

Christopher Boffi
Department of Psychology
University of Michigan

Title: Are Hoarders Only Attached to Possessions? Empirical Tests of Endowment and Belief Persistence

Abstract: Compulsive hoarding is generally characterized by a difficulty discarding objects and an increased tendency to acquire objects. In extreme cases, these symptoms cause excessive build-up of clutter or impairment of daily activities. In general, people place more value on objects that they own—known as the endowment effect. The following study compares the magnitude of the endowment effect within hoarders and non-hoarders by measuring buying and selling prices for a standard mug. In addition, previous studies have demonstrated that people resist changing established beliefs—known as belief persistence. This study examines whether an increased attachment to objects demonstrated by hoarders bears any relationship with an attachment to information and ideas. In the first belief persistence task, participants estimate the probability of being in one of two fictitious locations even though the location changes over time. The second belief persistence task evaluates participants’ attachment to inaccurate feedback. Mean valuations of the mug reveal that hoarders demonstrate a pronounced endowment effect, which is driven by higher selling prices. Buying prices are consistent between hoarders and non-hoarders. The second question of the Hoarding Rating Scale (HRS) measuring the difficulty discarding objects shows a positive relationship with selling prices. The first question measuring an increased tendency to acquire objects shows no relationship with buying prices. Preliminary analysis indicates no relationship between attachment to objects and attachment to ideas. This study contributes to existing hoarding literature by using individual differences of hoarding traits to examine their effect on the valuation of objects.

Ester Moher
Department of Psychology
University of Waterloo

Title: Predictions over time: Temporal distance moderates the debiasing effect of unpacking 

Abstract: People typically underestimate the time it will take them to complete various tasks, even when they are familiar with the process of executing those tasks (planning fallacy; Buehler, Griffin & Ross, 1994). One reason that individuals may show a chronic misprediction of completion time hinges on an optimistic perception of the task itself, such that small or unpleasant steps are ignored or perceived as inconsequential to the prediction, when they are in fact important or time-consuming.  Support Theory (Tversky & Koehler, 1994) suggests that “unpacking” such steps may help to attenuate the planning fallacy. Indeed, when a task is unpacked into procedural steps, people give longer task completion time estimates, and the planning fallacy is minimized (Kruger & Evans, 2001).Construal level theory (Liberman &Trope, 1998) suggests that a lower-level construal of a task (“how” concerns) may also foster less optimistic predictions, akin to the underlying mechanism of unpacking a task. Lower-level construals are typically associated with near-future events, whereas higher-level construals (“why” concerns) are associated with distant-future events. We hypothesize that the effects of unpacking on task completion time will be more pronounced for near-future tasks, because the lower-level construal of such events emphasizes feasibility concerns and component steps, whereas unpacking effects will be attenuated for distant-future events.  These hypotheses were tested in three studies. We consistently observe that unpacking effects on completion time estimates are attenuated for distant- relative to near-future tasks, and that this attenuation emerges as a result of an abstract conception of the task.

Robert Smith
Department of Marketing
University of Michigan, Ross School of Business

Title: Self-Connection and Goal Completion 

Abstract: A pervasive problem in health care is people’s inability to follow through on commitments to improve their lifestyles (e.g., taking medication or exercising daily). Although they know these goals would likely improve their health and happiness, most people will quickly de-prioritize them in favor of more short-sighted impulses. Based on research showing that people save more money when they feel connected to their future selves (Bartels and Urminsky 2011), I show that perceived disconnection to past selves may contribute to an inability to follow-through with resolutions. If so, increasing a feeling of connection to one’s past self may help reduce this problem. To explore this hypothesis, I informed University of Michigan undergrads that they as a group were very charitable as high school students, with an impressive amount of volunteer work listed on their college applications. I then manipulated how connected these participants felt with the person they were in high school. Finally, participants engaged in a difficult task where they could raise money for charity or quit the task and leave the experiment at any time.  Results showed that participants who were encouraged to feel unified with their charitable past-selves completed more of the task and raised significantly more money for charity than those who were made to feel disconnected to their charitable past-selves. This effect is stronger for people low in perspective-taking, presumably because those high in perspective-taking are more likely to naturally adopt the perspective and charitable goal of their past selves.

Ahmad Safi
Postdoctoral Fellow, School of Natural Resources and Environment
University of Michigan

Title: Rural Nevada: Vulnerability, Politics and Willingness to Decrease Fossil Fuel Consumption 

Abstract: In this research, we investigate the impact of vulnerability to drought as a major climate change impact in Western United States on Nevada farmers’ and ranchers’ willingness to decrease their energy consumption and thus decreasing their greenhouse gases emissions. Only few studies investigated the impact of vulnerability on risk perception and pro-environmental behaviors including individual actions and policy preferences within the context of climate change. These studies used limited scope of vulnerability focusing only on the physical component, albeit an increasing body of vulnerability literature defines vulnerability of human systems as a function of three main components: Physical vulnerability, sensitivity, and adaptive capacity. While physical vulnerability reflects the probability and severity of certain impacts to take place, sensitivity reflects the level at which a system can be hurt or benefited by certain risks, whereas adaptive capacity illustrates the capacity of a system to mitigate, survive, adjust, take advantage of, and adapt to environmental hazards (Fussel and Klein 2006). We measured Physical vulnerability through assessing the variant water stress levels among the different regions in Nevada based on differences in water availability, water use and population density. I assessed sensitivity by determining individual ranchers’ and farmers’ reliance on the agricultural activities as source of income. Adaptive capacity is measured through determining farmers and ranchers’ social status and relative poverty. Finally, I assessed vulnerability as a composite index of physical vulnerability, sensitivity and adaptive capacity.

Yang Yang
Department of Marketing
Carnegie Mellon University

Title: When Good Things Come to an End: Mispredicting Motivation for Unavailable Goods 

Abstract: Consumers not only purchase products, but also lose them. Prior literature has shown that, before people lose access to an item, their motivation for having it increases (Kurtz, 2008; Shu & Gneezy, 2010; West, 1975; Worchel, Lee, & Adewole, 1975). However, it is still an open question what will happen to their motivation after people lose access to the item. This research aims to fill this gap by examining how people’s motivation for a desirable product change over time after people lose access to it, and whether people can correctly predict this change. In Study1, experiencers indicated how much they wanted to eat more M&Ms over a period of 40 minutes after losing access to the M&Ms, and forecasters imagined the same scenario and predicted how much they would want to eat more M&Ms over the same period. We found that the extent to which experiencers wanted another M&M decreased over time, whereas forecasters predicted that they would constantly want another M&M.Study 2 tested the attention explanation and the motivated reasoning explanation by manipulating the attention allocated to M&Ms and measuring the liking of M&Ms after people lost access to M&Ms. The results showed that shifting attention away from M&Ms slowed down the decrease of motivation and eliminated the forecasting errors, and that the change in predicted (experienced) attention allocated to M&Ms, rather than the change in predicted (experienced) liking of M&Ms, fully mediated the change in their predicted (experienced) wanting. These results supported an attention explanation.