A fascinating new study from the March 2006 issue of the Journal of Consumer Research explores how our senses interact to gauge volume, with important implications for perception of consumer products and consumption patterns. Specifically, the article argues that "elongation effect" -- the common tendency to think that a tall, thin glass holds more than a short, stout glass of equal volume -- is reversed when touch is used instead of sight to evaluate how much a container holds.
"We tend to focus on physical/product features and not so much on the sensory appeal of products and features," explains Aradhna Krishna (University of Michigan). "There is enormous scope for future research in marketing studying how different senses individually and through their interactions affect consumer perceptions, behavior, and choice."
For one portion of the study, subjects were blindfolded and asked to handle the two glasses. With the removal of sight, subjects perceived the shorter, wider glass to have a larger volume than the taller glass. This reversal was upheld in another portion of the experiment in which subjects were not blindfolded but introduced to visual distractions, including a series of 30-second advertisements.
"In movie theaters where patrons eat popcorn while watching the movie, the visual sense is loaded ... whereas the haptic sense (touch) is occupied for a long time holding the popcorn container," Krishna explains. "If only one type of container is to be sold by the theater, the shorter, fatter one may bring greater satisfaction to consumers."
Krishna cites visually loaded social/business occasions as another occasion when this phenomenon might arise.
Aradhna Krishna. "The Effect of Vision versus Touch on the Elongation Bias." Journal of Consumer Research. March 2006.
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