Buying It

Kevin Lewis

January 10, 2021

The Psychology Of Marginal Utility
Xilin Li & Christopher Hsee
Journal of Consumer Research, forthcoming


That wealth has diminishing marginal utility is a fact of life, and that people be sensitive to their current level of wealth when deciding whether to pursue additional wealth is a requirement of rational choice. A series of experiments, spanning diverse contexts, reveal marginal-utility neglect — that people are rather insensitive to their current wealth when deciding how much effort to expend to acquire a monetary reward (e.g., how long to walk to claim a voucher). Moreover, the experiments demonstrate that a marginal-utility-prompting manipulation, which prompts people to consider their current wealth and their need for the reward given their current wealth, produces a significant sensitization effect — making financially richer (vs. less rich) individuals less (vs. more) willing to seek the reward. This manipulation is more effective than either prompting people to consider their current wealth alone or consider their need for the reward alone, suggesting that marginal-utility prompting does not merely draw people’s attention to their current wealth or merely draw their attention to their need for the reward, but links the two elements. This research elucidates the psychology of marginal utility and yields implications beyond the pursuit of monetary rewards.

They’re Just Not that into You: How to Leverage Existing Consumer-Brand Relationships through Social Psychological Distance
Scott Connors et al.
Journal of Marketing, forthcoming


While prevailing marketing practice is to encourage ever stronger relationships between consumers and brands, such relationships are rare and many consumers are relationship-averse or content with the status quo. The authors examine how marketers can more effectively manage existing brand relationships by focusing on the psychological distance between consumers and brands in order to match close (distant) brands with concrete (abstract) language in marketing communications. Through such matching, marketers can create a beneficial mindset-congruency effect leading to more favorable evaluations and behavior, even for brands that are relatively distant to consumers. Study 1 demonstrates the basic mindset-congruency effect and Study 2 shows it is capable of affecting donation behaviors. Study 3 documents two brand-level factors (search versus experience goods, brand stereotypes) that moderate this effect in managerially relevant ways. Study 4 shows that activation of the mindset-congruency effect influences consumers to spend more, and that these behaviors are moderated by consumer category involvement. The authors conclude with marketing and theoretical implications.

How the Eyes Connect to the Heart: The Influence of Eye Gaze Direction on Advertising Effectiveness
Rita Ngoc To & Vanessa Patrick
Journal of Consumer Research, forthcoming


A model’s eyes are a powerful and ubiquitous visual feature in virtually any advertisement depicting a person. But does where the ad model’s eyes look matter? Integrating insights from social psychology and performance and visual art theory, we demonstrate that when the ad model’s gaze is averted (looking away from the viewer), the viewer is more readily transported into the ad narrative and responds more favorably to the ad than when the ad model’s gaze is direct (looking directly at the viewer). Five multi-method experiments (field and lab studies) illustrate that averted gaze (direct gaze) enhances narrative transportation (spokesperson credibility) to boost the effectiveness of emotional (informative) ads. Study 1 is a Facebook field study that demonstrates the effect of averted (vs. direct) gaze direction on advertising effectiveness using a real brand. Studies 2a and 2 b implicate enhanced narrative transportation as the underlying process mechanism by measuring (Study 2a) and manipulating (Study 2 b) narrative transportation. Studies 3a and 3 b examine ad contexts in which direct gaze can enhance ad effectiveness: when the ad has informational (vs. emotional) appeal (Study 3a), and when the viewer prefers not to identify with the negative emotional content of the ad (Study 3 b).

The Serving Temperature Effect: Food Temperature, Expected Satiety, and Complementary Food Purchases
Sara Baskentli, Lauren Block & Maureen Morrin
Appetite, forthcoming


We show that the temperature at which foods and beverages are served impacts consumers’ complementary purchases, defined as additional foods and beverages purchased for a consumption episode. Across a series of studies, including field studies and controlled laboratory experiments, we show that consumers choose more complementary food items when they consume or intend to consume a food or beverage served cold rather than hot. This occurs because cold consumables are expected to be less satiating compared to hot consumables. Serving temperatures that increase complementary purchasing may enhance the firm’s bottom line, but could add unnecessary calories to the meal, and thus is of interest to both consumers and managers.


from the


A weekly newsletter with free essays from past issues of National Affairs and The Public Interest that shed light on the week's pressing issues.


to your National Affairs subscriber account.

Already a subscriber? Activate your account.


Unlimited access to intelligent essays on the nation’s affairs.

Subscribe to National Affairs.