Media Releases

No pain, no gain? Concrete thinking increases consumer confidence

July 22, 2010

TORONTO, ON — The con­fi­dence you feel when mak­ing a choice might depend on whether you’re think­ing con­crete­ly or abstract­ly, accord­ing to a new study in the Jour­nal of Con­sumer Research.

“In three exper­i­ments across a sam­ple of 750 par­tic­i­pants, we found that sub­jec­tive feel­ings of ease expe­ri­enced dur­ing judg­ments (choos­ing a dig­i­tal cam­era, art, movie, or char­i­ty) can increase or decrease con­fi­dence in their choice and the amount of dona­tion depend­ing on whether con­sumers are think­ing, respec­tive­ly, con­crete­ly or abstract­ly,” write authors Claire Tsai, an assis­tant pro­fes­sor of mar­ket­ing at the Rot­man School of Man­age­ment at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Toron­to and Ann L. McGill who Is the Sears Roe­buck Pro­fes­sor of Gen­er­al Man­age­ment, Mar­ket­ing and Behav­ioral Sci­ence at The Uni­ver­si­ty of Chica­go Booth School of Busi­ness.

The authors use the exam­ple of study­ing for an exam. The expe­ri­ence of dif­fi­cul­ty can lead to a feel­ing of high con­fi­dence, if the dif­fi­cul­ty is inter­pret­ed as effort put forth to ensure a good grade. This aligns with con­ven­tion­al wis­dom such as “no pain, no gain.” On the oth­er hand, the same expe­ri­ence can lead to feel­ing of low con­fi­dence if pro­cess­ing the mate­r­i­al is inter­pret­ed as inabil­i­ty to process the study mate­ri­als (“Since I had to work so hard, I am prob­a­bly not very good at this sub­ject.”)

The authors test­ed their hypoth­e­sis in a num­ber of prod­uct cat­e­gories includ­ing elec­tron­ics, art, movies, and char­i­ta­ble giv­ing. They manip­u­lat­ed ease of pro­cess­ing by vary­ing clar­i­ty of ad mes­sages or the num­ber of thoughts gen­er­at­ed to explain par­tic­i­pant choic­es. They induced abstract (or con­crete) think­ing by ask­ing par­tic­i­pants to focus on the why (or how) aspects of an event.

“We found that when con­sumers are think­ing more con­crete­ly and focus­ing on details of prod­uct infor­ma­tion, ease of processing—making a choice based on a clear ad or a few reasons—increases con­fi­dence,” the authors write. “Dif­fi­cul­ty of processing—making a choice based on a blur­ry ad or hav­ing to gen­er­ate many rea­sons to explain one’s choice—decreases con­fi­dence.”

The com­plete study is avail­able at:–PREPRINT–nopainnogain.pdfpdf.

For the lat­est think­ing on busi­ness, man­age­ment and eco­nom­ics from the Rot­man School of Man­age­ment, vis­it

The Rot­man School of Man­age­ment at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Toron­to is redesign­ing busi­ness edu­ca­tion for the 21st cen­tu­ry with a cur­ricu­lum based on Inte­gra­tive Think­ing. Locat­ed in the world’s most diverse city, the Rot­man School fos­ters a new way to think that enables the design of cre­ative busi­ness solu­tions. The School is cur­rent­ly rais­ing $200 mil­lion to ensure Cana­da has the world-class busi­ness school it deserves. For more infor­ma­tion, vis­it


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Ken McGuf­fin
Man­ag­er, Media Rela­tions
Rot­man School of Man­age­ment
Uni­ver­si­ty of Toron­to
Voice 416.946.3818