Something for the weekend

This week’s research round-up includes a look at the relationship between effort and value and also considers when should one trust a stranger

Playing hard to get or finding a “must have” elusive item both evoke similar responses it would seem. Expending effort - even pointless effort - equates with value say researchers, so that the harder it is to acquire something the more it is wanted.

Thus driving across town for an item - even if it can be bought locally, standing on a step to get hold of an out-of-reach item or chasing a potential date who is slightly elusive, become more valuable because they required considerable effort to be expended before they can be acquired, claim Aparna Labroo, professor of marketing at the Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto and Sarah Kim of the University of Chicago.

“This relationship between effort and value is so closely associated in a consumer’s mind that wanting the best outcomes automatically results in increased preference for any outcome associated with effort, even pointless effort,” say the researchers.

In one study a group of men were shown photographs of a potential female date. The pictures were either in focus or slightly blurry. Whilst those men who had previously described themselves as shy gawkers opted for the clear pictures, those men who considered themselves to be smooth talkers chose the blurry photographs, stating that they found these women to be more attractive.

The full research From inherent value to incentive value can be found in the Journal of Consumer Research.

● When selecting a new pair of sunglasses whose advice would you trust when deciding whether or not they suited you? The advice of a stranger or that of a close friend?

Surprisingly the answer depends, according to academics. It all comes down to whether the advice comes from a close friend, a stranger or an acquaintance and also if the advice is positive or negative.

If the advice is negative - those glasses do not look good on you at all, then individuals trust both their close friends and also strangers and trust acquaintances the least. But if the advice is positive - that haircut looks wonderful on you, then acquaintances are trusted the most and the opinions of close friends carry the least weight.

Renée Gosline, assistant professor of marketing at MIT’s Sloan School of Management, says that these findings are down to the “frenemy” affect - the social competition that can be found in individuals’ relationships with acquaintances. The advice of strangers is trusted more than might be expected because “we are not in competition with them”, she says. Strangers she adds, “Don’t have an impact on our lives and they have no ulterior motive to lie to us”. However, the advice of close friends she says is often discounted because it is believed that they may want to spare our feelings.

The research could be valuable for those businesses that are marketing themselves via social media. Companies need to understand social dynamics says Prof Gosline and understand whether an individual’s friends are really close friends or merely acquaintances.

“They need to understand who’s talking to whom and how much influence that person has on another person’s decision making. It makes a big difference.”

The research, Frenemies like these: how expectations of the trustworthiness of advice from social network ties impact decision-making (working paper) is co-authored by assistant professor of marketing Breagin Riley at the Whitman School of Management, Syracuse University and Jeff Lee, a doctoral student at Harvard Business School.

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