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Exposure to Attractive Objects Makes People More Open to Financial Risk-Taking, Says Study from School’s Marketing Department

June 17, 2014
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A new marketing study from School of Business says affiliation with attractive objects causes people to be more open-minded to financial risk-taking.

The findings, to be published in The Journal of Experimental Psychology: Applied, reveal that being associated with aesthetically pleasing things “affirms” people’s sense of self. This means that when people feel a connection in some way to something good looking they feel better about themselves and their values. As a result of this affirmation, people become more open to information and arguments presented to them and are more willing to take financial risks, such as buying a used car or investing in a fledgling start-up company when given reasons for doing so. This is the same for both financially savvy and less savvy investors.

The researchers examined this effect in financial and consumer decisions in which choices varied in their inherent risk and where there was information presented advocating the choice of one option. After presenting participants with highly aesthetic images, they were more likely to select the advocated option, regardless of how financially risky it might be, than were participants who saw less aesthetic images. 

“We found that people become more open to persuasive arguments when they see themselves related in some way to attractive objects,” said Claudia Townsend, an assistant professor of marketing at the School and one of the researchers.  “These findings can serve as a forewarning to consumers, but also as an opportunity for marketers who might decide to place attractive objects within sight of consumers shopping for something considered far from a sure thing.  For example, used car dealerships might benefit from reminding consumers of a previous good-looking product they have purchased or of their attractive friends and family,” said Townsend, who conducted the study with Suzanne B. Shu of UCLA.

Other examples, cited by Townsend, of how this effect could be applied to impact behavior include:

  • Online marketplaces:  For websites, on which the exact quality of products for sale is often unknown, visitors would likely be more open to a purchase there (which is considered a risky spend) if the website is attractive and/or reminds the customer of previous attractive purchases they’ve made there.
  • Facebook:  When Facebook went public, the firm could have strategically placed images of potential IPO investors’ best-looking Facebook friends in materials and/or presentations put in front of this group, causing them to be more open to the reasons presented for investing in the stock and thus less risk averse with their early stock purchase. 
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