Brand Choice Behavior As a Function of Information Load: Study Ii (Abstract)

Jacob Jacoby, Purdue University
Donald E. Speller, Purdue University
Carol A. Kohn, Purdue University
[ to cite ]:
Jacob Jacoby, Donald E. Speller, and Carol A. Kohn (1974) ,"Brand Choice Behavior As a Function of Information Load: Study Ii (Abstract)", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 01, eds. Scott Ward and Peter Wright, Ann Abor, MI : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 381-383.

Advances in Consumer Research Volume 1, 1974    Pages 381-383


Jacob Jacoby, Purdue University

Donald E. Speller, Purdue University

Carol A. Kohn, Purdue University

[This study was supported, in part, by a grant from the Consumer Research Institute, Inc., Washington, D.C.]

[The complete study upon which this abstract is based is now "in press" in Research on Consumer Behavior.]

For almost any common grocery product, consumers shopping in the typical American supermarket are able to make their selection from among numerous competing brands. To help her decide which brand to select, the consumer obtains information from a variety of sources. One such source, the package, represents the manufacturer's final opportunity to inform and persuade the consumer, and usually contains a wide variety of information. Much of this appears because the manufacturer or seller wants it there. Some package information is required by law (e.g., ingredients, weight, size), and additional information will probably soon appear as a function of recent FDA rulings and pending legislation.

There are at least two perspectives one might adopt regarding this array of information. First, there are those who argue that it doesn't matter whether the consumer uses the information, it ought to be there because she has a moral. ethical, and legal "right" to know. For example, Bymers (1972, p. 59) writes:

Congress has passed the (Truth-in-Lending Law) on the issue of the right to know rather than on any evidence of whether or not the consumer uses the information.... Congress was correct. The use the consumer makes of information is peripheral to the main issue of right to know.

An alternative perspective stems from those portions of the behavioral sciences dealing with human information processing and both statistical and clinical prediction. Based upon considerable evidence, this position maintains that there are finite limits to the ability of human beings to assimilate and process information during any given unit of time, and that once these limits are surpassed, behavior tends to become confused and dysfunctional. Conceivably, such a state of information overload can occur in the supermarket. The typical full service American supermarket displays more than 8,000 different items on its shelves (cf. Twedt, 1967), most of which are enveloped by packages containing an array of complex information. Not only is the consumer confronted with numerous complex alternatives, but the situation is one in which she usually arrives at a purchase decision within a relatively short period of time. If there is indeed a point beyond which additional information produces dysfunctional consequences, the ramifications for public policy makers, legislators, and marketers would be substantial.

Jacoby, Speller, and Kohn, (1974) examined these information overload implications in a consumer context and found linear relationships between amount of product information and subjective feelings of satisfaction, certainty, confusion, and a curvilinear (information overload) relationship between amount of information and the accuracy or the "correctness" of the purchase decision. As amount of information increased, feelings of satisfaction with the decision and certainty that one had made the correct decision also increased, while feelings of confusion decreased. However, the ability to correctly select the "best" brand was demonstratably poorer at both low and high information load levels, compared to intermediate levels. Thus, while the 153 student subjects felt better at higher levels of information load, they actually made poorer purchase decisions. Because of the substantial implications that these findings have for public policy decisions, the present investigation attempted to replicate the first study using different subjects, products, and improved measures and procedures.



The subjects (Ss) were 192 paid volunteer housewives residing in the greater Lafayette, Indiana community. Selection procedures insured a socio-demographically heterogeneous sample highly representative of the Lafayette housewife community at large.


A 4 (number-of-brands) X 4 (number-of-bits-of-information-per-brand) between-subjects ANOVA design was employed in which Ss were randomly assigned to one of sixteen experimental cells (n = 12 per cell). There were either 4, 8, 12, or 16 bits of information per brand presented to the Ss, and each responded to information regarding two products: rice and prepared dinners.


The experimenter asked the Ss to pretend: "that you just ran out of two products (rice and prepared dinners) and that you have just now entered a supermarket to buy more of these products. Even if you don't usually buy one or both of these products, please try to work through the study as if you did. Your task will be to choose one package of rice and one package of prepared dinners from among the different brands presented and described to you. To help you make your decision, you will be given some information about each of the brands and then asked to choose that brand which you like most."

Dependent Variables:

Three types of consequences were examined. (1) Accuracy. Based on a procedure which compared the information profile of the available brands with that of the S's ideal brand, it was possible to determine whether each S: (a) correctly selected the brand closest to her ideal, and (b) rank ordered all the available brands in terms of what would have been predicted from knowledge of her ideal brand. (2) Time. Given that time is itself of considerable value and the greater the time required to reach a decision, the more dysfunctional the process, the start-to-finish decision time was measured for each S. (3). Several subjective states which occur concurrent with and subsequent to the purchase decision (e.g., satisfaction, certainty, confusion) were also assessed.


1. The predicted decrease in accuracy at the higher end of the information load continuum occurred in three out of four instances (i.e., two products X two measures of accuracy for each).

2. Increases in the amount of total information were positively correlated with amount of time spent on arriving at a decision.

3. Again, despite the fact that they make poorer purchase decision, Ss feel more satisfied, more certain, less confused, and desire less additional information as the total amount of information increases.


Bymers, G. Seller-buyer communication: Point of view of a family economist. Journal of Home Economics, 1972, 64, (2), 59-63.

Jacoby, J., Speller, D. E., & Kohn, C. A. Brand choice behavior as a function of information load. Journal of Marketing Research, 1974, 11 (l), February, (in press).

Jacoby, J., Speller, D. E. and Kohn, C. A. Brand choice behavior as a function of information load: Replication and extension. Research on Consumer Behavior, in press.

Twedt, D. W. What effect will the "Fair Packaging and Labeling Act" have upon marketing practices? Journal of Marketing, 1967, 31 (2), 58-59.