How Well Do You Know Me? Consumer Calibration of Others’ Knowledge

Andrew D. Gershoff, University of Michigan
Gita V. Johar, Columbia University
EXTENDED ABSTRACT - When making purchases, consumers often enlist friends who help them by acting as agents on their behalf (Urbany, Dickson, and Wilkie 1989; Gershoff, Broniarczyk, and West 2001; Rosen and Olshavsky 1987). A consumer’s decision to rely on a friend to act as an agent depends, in part, on the consumer’s belief that the friend is knowledgeable about his or her preferences and attitudes. Thus it is important to examine consumer calibration for estimates of others’ knowledge about them. Although this has been underscored by a recent surge of interest in knowledge calibration and metacognition (Alba and Hutchinson 2000; Wright 2002), research in the area remains Asparse and fragmented@ (Alba and Hutchinson 2000, pg. 146).
[ to cite ]:
Andrew D. Gershoff and Gita V. Johar (2005) ,"How Well Do You Know Me? Consumer Calibration of Others’ Knowledge", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 32, eds. Geeta Menon and Akshay R. Rao, Duluth, MN : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 313-314.

Advances in Consumer Research Volume 32, 2005     Pages 313-314

HOW WELL DO YOU KNOW ME? CONSUMER CALIBRATION OF OTHERS’ KNOWLEDGE

Andrew D. Gershoff, University of Michigan

Gita V. Johar, Columbia University

EXTENDED ABSTRACT -

When making purchases, consumers often enlist friends who help them by acting as agents on their behalf (Urbany, Dickson, and Wilkie 1989; Gershoff, Broniarczyk, and West 2001; Rosen and Olshavsky 1987). A consumer’s decision to rely on a friend to act as an agent depends, in part, on the consumer’s belief that the friend is knowledgeable about his or her preferences and attitudes. Thus it is important to examine consumer calibration for estimates of others’ knowledge about them. Although this has been underscored by a recent surge of interest in knowledge calibration and metacognition (Alba and Hutchinson 2000; Wright 2002), research in the area remains "sparse and fragmented" (Alba and Hutchinson 2000, pg. 146).

Judgments of how well others know them are likely to be based on available cues that are perceived to be diagnostic rather than on objective measures (Alba and Hutchinson 2000; Menon et al.1995; Wright 2002; Park, Mothersbaugh, and Feick 1994). Relevant research in interpersonal knowledge suggests cues that consumers are likely to use include perceived similarity (Schul and Vinokur 2000) relationship length, and involvement in the relationship (Swann and Gill 1997). Use of these cues may lead to errors in judgment if they are not related to objective accuracy (Kenny and Acitelli 2001; Kenny 1994; West 1996). However, in the context of a friend’s knowledge, consumers may rely on these cues either because they are motivated to believe that their close friends are more capable than thy really are (Kunda 1990; Murray and Holmes 1993), or because they are motivated to protect their own identity through protection of the relationship (Kenny and Acitelli 2001; Murray et al. 2000). Two studies were conducted to examine these effects.

Sixty pairs of friends who had known each other from between one and 288 months participated in Study 1. Friends were randomly assigned to either the target or perceiver condition. Targets completed a series of questionnaires in which they provided information about their own preferences and attitudes in five consumer related domains (grocery products, restaurants, activity preferences, values and lifestyle attitudes, and consumer attitudes) as well as estimates of how accurate they believed their friend would be at predicting their responses. Targets also provided measures of the length of the relationship, involvement in the relationship, and similarity to the friend in the study. Perceivers completed the same sets of questionnaires as targets, however instead of providing their own preferences and attitudes, perceivers provided estimates of their target friend’s responses to the items.

Analysis of responses indicated that target participants were not very accurate in estimates of their friends’ knowledge of their attitudes and preferences. Instead, targets’ estimates were primarily associated with the involvement in the relationship. Overall, participants overestimated how accurate their friends would be in predicting their preferences and attitudes. Further, those who were in more involved relationships overestimated the accuracy of their friends to a greater extent then those who were in less involved relationships.

Study 2 sought to tease apart the role of different types of motivated reasoning (idealizing close friends versus protecting close relationships) that might affect consumer estimates of their friends’ knowledge about them. Thus in study 2 we examined consumers’ estimates of friends’ knowledge about topics other than the target consumers’ preferences and attitudes. Study 2 also examined consumers’ updating of their perceptions of friends’ knowledge about them upon learning that their friends are more or less accurate than they had predicted.

Forty-four pairs of friends participated in study 2. Each made estimates of their friends’ knowledge about their attitudes and preferences in three consumer related domains (grocery products, restaurants, activities). In addition each participant also made estimates of their friends’ general knowledge in three domains (Oscar winning films, state capitals, chemical elements). Finally, friends were randomly assigned to one of two updating conditions in which they received feedback that their partner was either more or less knowledgeable than they had initially estimated about their attitudes and preferences in each of the three consumer related domains and then were asked to provide a new (updated) estimate of the friends’ knowledge about them. Lastly, participants responded to questions about their relationship with and similarity to their partner in the study.

Targets’ estimates of their friends’ knowledge about their preferences replicated results of study 1. Relationship involvement predicted targets’ estimates of their friends’ knowledge about them. However, targets’ estimates of friends’ knowledge of other topics showed a different pattern; relationship involvement did not predict estimates of the friends’ knowledge. Instead, estimates of friends’ knowledge for other topics were associated with the friends’ actual knowledge. Finally, depending on involvement in the relationship, participants showed bias as they updated their beliefs about their friends’ knowledge about them in the face of feedback. When updating their estimates of their friends’ knowledge about them, those who had high involvement relationships made greater upward adjustments when they learned that their friends were more accurate than they had initially predicted, compared to their downward adjustments when they learned their friends were less accurate. Conversely there was no significant difference n the amount of updating by individuals in low involvement relationships.

The findings of this research make a number of unique contributions to the literature on agent selection and evaluation as well as to literature in knowledge calibration and meta-cognition. First, research in the area of agent selection and evaluation has frequently focused on situations where the agents have provided general information, typically in the form of the agents’ own preferences or evaluations (Gershoff et al. 2001; West and Broniarczyk 1998). Our results add to a growing body of research that suggests that aspects of consumer information processing may lead consumers to select inferior agents and to perhaps over-rely on the abilities of poor agents while they under-rely on better agents particularly in contexts where the agent is providing personalized evaluations based on the target’s preferences (Gershoff, Mukherjee, and Mukhopadhyay 2003). Second, this research contributes to the literatures on calibration and metaknowledge. Our results contribute to our understanding of consumers’ metaknowledge by providing evidence of a situation in which consumers rely on their beliefs about others in making decisions, but in which their beliefs are poorly calibrated with reality.

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