Study Shows Consumers May be Swayed by Distraction

Released: 16-Jul-2008 3:00 PM EDT
Source Newsroom: Central Michigan University
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Citations Journal of Consumer Research (Jun-2008)

Newswise — Consumers talking on cell phones or dealing with a crying child in the store may make more impulsive purchases. A Central Michigan University study has found that consumers are more susceptible to making impulsive purchases for one brand over another if they are distracted while shopping.

CMU psychology professor Bryan Gibson surveyed undergraduate college students by measuring their preference for a variety of soft drinks, including Coke and Pepsi.

In one experiment, participants were shown Coke and Pepsi paired with either positive words and images such as the word amazing or an image of a mother holding a child, and some negative such as the word terrifying or an image of exhaust coming from a car.

A second experiment presented participants with an unrelated cognitive task - memorizing an eight-digit number - then offered them a can of Coke or Pepsi.

Results of Gibson's study found that implicit attitudes, or those that people may not be conscious of and able to verbally express, predicted product choice only when participants were presented with a cognitive task, suggesting that implicit product attitudes may play a greater role in product choice when the consumer is distracted or making an impulse purchase.

"The results of this research suggest that our intuitions and feelings about brands may lead us to choose them, particularly when we are distracted," said Gibson. "So don't be surprised if a distraction at the grocery store leads to more impulse purchases."

The study "Can Evaluative Conditioning Change Attitudes toward Mature Brands? New Evidence from the Implicit Association Test," was published in the June issue of the Journal of Consumer Research.


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