SMITH BRAIN TRUST – New findings from the University of Maryland’s Robert H. Smith School of Business indicate that consumers make more hedonic choices when their preferences are visible to others, so that they can promote the image that they are having fun — whether or not they really are.
Rebecca Ratner, Associate Dean for Academic Affairs & Dean’s Professor of Marketing, and Maryland Smith PhD candidate Nicole Kim used six studies to show that consumers are more likely to choose hedonic items — that is, items characterized by the pursuit of pleasure — when they are making a choice that others can observe or see, compared to a choice that isn’t visible to others.
This manifests to include posting on social media, behaving differently around the presence of company, and other similar actions.
“The choice shift to hedonic items was impacted by the motivation to present oneself in a positive light,” the researchers wrote. “As such, consumption choices were impacted only when the signaling motive was activated, such as in the presence of a friend, and when consumers anticipate future interactions with the audience.”
The paper concludes with implications for consumers, researchers and managers.
Ratner has taught courses on consumer behavior, marketing management, marketing for social value and marketing research. Similar to her previous research, this study on the human motivations to appear ‘fun’ explore the many underlying factors that influence suboptimal consumer decision making and social norms.
Her previous projects include research on Americans' predicted and actual enjoyment of doing things alone, in which she had subjects trying to imagine themselves in certain situations. Many said running errands, watching movies at home or going out to dinner alone would be less fun than with others. However, they turned out to be wrong. The subjects had similar enjoyment levels on their own as they did when they had company.
Ratner has also conducted research on setting intentions before embarking on a social activity with someone. Mapping out what you hope to get out of the experience suggests both parties will have a better time and be less likely to leave disappointed.
Read more: Kim, Nicole Y. and Rebecca K. Ratner (2019), "Signaling Fun: Impression Management Motive Increases Consumption of Hedonic Items" is a working paper.
Rebecca Ratner is the Dean’s Professor of Marketing and Associate Dean for Academic Affairs.
Research interests: Factors underlying suboptimal consumer decision making, focusing on variety seeking and the influence of social norms.
Selected accomplishments: Research has appeared in top marketing, psychology, and decision-making journals, including Journal of Consumer Research, Journal of Marketing Research, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Journal of Experimental Psychology, and Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Her research has been featured in the media including The New York Times, Washington Post, CBS News: This Morning, and NPR’s Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me. She has served as associate editor at the Journal of Consumer Research and Journal of Marketing Research and co-editor of Journal of Marketing Research.
About this series: Maryland Smith celebrates Women Leading Research during Women’s History Month. The initiative is organized in partnership with ADVANCE, an initiative to transform the University of Maryland by investing in a culture of inclusive excellence. Other Women's History Month activities include the eighth annual Women Leading Women forum on March 5, 2019.
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