Special Session Summary Automatic Processes in Judgments and Behavior


Suresh Ramanathan (2003) ,"Special Session Summary Automatic Processes in Judgments and Behavior", in E - European Advances in Consumer Research Volume 6, eds. Darach Turley and Stephen Brown, Provo, UT : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 308-311.

European Advances in Consumer Research Volume 6, 2003      Pages 308-311



Suresh Ramanathan, University of Chicago, USA


There has been considerable research in the social and cognitive psychology literature on the topic of automatic processes (e.g., Shiffrin and Schneider 1977, Bargh and Pietromonaco 1982, Chartrand and Bargh 1996, Bargh et al. 2001). Research in the consumer behavior literature documenting such processes has been relatively recent. Work by Janiszewski (1993), Shiv and Fedorikhin (2002), Fitzsimons and Shiv (2001), Fitzsimons and Williams (2000), Menon and Raghubir (forthcoming) and Ramanathan and Menon (2002) among others have shown that automatic effects exist in perceptual, affective and goal-driven processes.

This session presents work that adds to this growing body of research, and delineates conditions under which perception, affect and motivation may all guide behavior in a relatively efficient and effortless manner. In doing so, we identify several new dimensions to these phenomena. For example, we show that even anthropomorphized objects are capable of activating stereotype-consistent behavior (Fitzsimons, Chartrand and Fitzsimons’s paper). We also demonstrate that the mere presence and position of another person in the behavioral context can activate social goals in the focal person that in turn guide behavior consistent with these goals (Puntoni and Tavassoli’s paper). Finally, we also show that hedonic goals can influence affective reactions to stimuli in a dynamic manner (Ramanathan and Menon’s paper). Together, these studies underscore the fact that many processes guiding behavior may proceed to completion relatively efficiently and that this phenomenon is quite pervasiveBit exists in person-object interactions as well as in person-person interactions.

The papers in this session re-assert some of the basic findings in the psychology literature that judgments and behavior are often quite automatic. For instance, Fitzsimons, Chartrand and Fitzsimons show that common objects that have human characteristics imbued in them are capable of activating behavior consistent with the characteristics represented by the object. Puntoni and Tavassoli show that absent a direct social interaction, even the mere presence of another person in the same behavioral context can influence the way the focal person behaves due to the automatic activation of impression management and social desirability goals. Ramanathan and Menon look at how people primed with hedonic goals evaluate hedonic objects, both related and unrelated to the goal, over time and show that people with chronic hedonic goals show increasingly extreme (positive) evaluations of related (but not unrelated) hedonic objects with delay, while those without such chronic goals show a temporary increase in evaluations that then decays to more normal levels.

Specifically, the first paper by Grßinne Fitzsimons, Tanya Chartrand and Gavan Fitzsimons shows that people primed with words related to a dog are more likely to show loyal behavior relative to a control group, while those primed with words related to a cat are less likely than the control group to exhibit such loyal behavior. In a second study, the authors show that such stereotype-consistent behavior extends to brand logos. People primed with the Apple logo performed significantly better on a creativity task compared to those primed with the logo for IBM. The Apple-primed group also showed greater persistence on the task. The authors are testing a link between such stereotypical perceptions and goals in a third study that they propose to present at the session. The second paper by Stefano Puntoni and Nader Tavassoli looks at how the mere presence of another person in a room can influence evaluations of products that carry positive or negative social cues. The authors show that evaluations of socially enhancing products such as perfumes are higher relative to control in the presence of another person, while evaluations of socially threatening products such as hemorrhoid ointments is attenuated under the same conditions. They examine the moderating role of self-monitoring and social anxiety, showing that there is an approach motivation towards socially enhancing products for those with high self-monitoring, while there is an avoidance motivation against socially threatening products for those with high social anxiety. In a second study, the authors show that even the position of the person in the social setting matters. People prone to self-monitoring show a greater effect on their evaluations of products when the confederate is seated in front of them, while socially anxious people show a greater effect on their evaluations when the confederate is seated behind them. In the third paper, Suresh Ramanathan and Geeta Menon examine the effect of chronic and hedonic goals on the spontaneity and intensity of affect generated across time upon seeing hedonic products. They show that people with chronic hedonic goals who are also primed with a temporary hedonic goal (wanting something sweet) show faster like-dislike reactions to hedonic objects related to the temporary goal (e.g., desserts, candy). Further, these reactions intensify over time such that liking for related hedonic objects increases with delay. This effect does not obtain for those without chronic hedonic goals. The temporary goal causes liking scores for related hedonic objects to increase momentarily but this effect decays with time to normal levels. The authors argue that this effect is due to the interplay between the affective and motivational system.

The three papers in this session focus on both person-object interactions and person-person interactions. They examine processes that underlie the way we perceive and evaluate common objects and products. They especially show the influence of goals on such perceptual and evaluative processes. By showing that a variety of goals can influence consumer behavior in a relatively efficient and automatic manner, they argue that the commonly accepted notion that goal-driven behavior is effortful and planned is overstated. Together, they trace a process path from perception to behavior via evaluation and motivation that proceeds to completion in a smooth and effortless manner. The three papers also look at different domains of judgment and behavior (creativity, hedonic consumption, social enhancement), thereby attesting to the generality of the findings presented.




Grainne M. Fitzsimons, New York University, USA

Tanya L. Chartrand, Ohio State University, USA

Gavan J. Fitzsimons, University of Pennsylvania, USA

Perceiving another person can automatically activate stereotypes that lead the perceiver to behave in a stereotype-consistent fashion (see Dijksterhuis & Bargh, 2001). Further, exposure to significant others can automatically activate goals and subsequently change the perceiver’s behavior (Fitzsimons & Bargh, in press). The current research explores whether exposure to anthropomorphized objects such as house pets (e.g., dogs and cats) or brand logos (e.g., Apple and IBM) can also activate associated stereotypes and/or goals and influence behavior.

In a first study, we predicted that participants that were incidentally exposed to dog-related primes would have the associated trait or goal of loyalty activated, whereas participants that were exposed to cat related primes would be less likely to have a loyalty-related cognition or goal activated. Participants first completed a sorting task that served as a supraliminal prime. Each participant was asked to place in time-sequenced order eight sets of three related photos. Four of the eight sets of images consisted of photos of cats for 1/3 of the participants, four series consisted of photos of dogs for another 1/3 of the participants, with the remaining participants ordering eight sets of images unrelated to pets or loyalty. Upon completing the first task, all participants responded to a series of questions designed to measure how loyal they were toward other humans. As anticipated, those that had received dog-primes were significantly more loyal than those that received cat-primes, with the control group falling between the two groups in terms of loyalty.

In a second study, we conceptually replicated the first study in the context of brand logos. Based on the idea that the brand Apple connotes creativity much more than does the brand IBM (see Aaker, 1997), we predicted that people primed with Apple logos would perform better on a creativity task than would people primed with IBM logos. Participants first completed a computerized vigilance task that served as a subliminal priming manipulation: 1/3 of participants were primed with Apple logos; 1/3 were primed with IBM logos, and 1/3 were primed with pattern masks only (as a control condition). All participants then completed a creativity taskBthe Unusual Uses Task, in which they were asked to generate as many unusual uses as possible for a brick. As predicted, people primed with Apple logos outperformed control and IBM-primed participants on the creativity task. Apple-primed participants spent more time working on the task and generated more uses than did control or IBM-primed participants. Participants did not differ on self-reported motivation or interest in the task, suggesting that the effects of the brand logos on behavior were nonconscious.

In a third study, we explore whether the effects of exposure to anthropomorphized objects on behavior are operating through a stereotype-activation mechanism or through a goal-activation mechanism. We use the same subliminal priming procedure as in study two, but only _ of participants complete the creativity ask immediately following the priming procedure. The other _ of participants complete a neutral filler task for 5 minutes prior to engaging in the creativity task. If the observed effects are operating through a stereotype-activation mechanism the effect on creativity should dissipate after a 5 minute filler task. By contrast, if the observed effects are operating by activating a goal, the effects should remain constant or even strengthen after a 5 minute filler (based on the argument that activated goals will remain strong or even grow stronger until fulfilled; Bargh, Gollwitzer, Lee-Chai, Barndollar, and Trotschel 2001).

Across the three studies, we conclude that even incidental exposure to common objects that have had human characteristics ascribed to them (such as house pets and common brand logos) appear to influence behavior, providing further evidence that perception-behavior effects may be ubiquitous in everyday life.



Stefano Puntoni, London Business School, UK

Nader Tavassoli, London Business School, UK

Research on the advertising-viewer interaction has almost exclusively focused on the individual. However, advertisements are often viewed within the dynamics of a rich network of social interactionsBbe it watching television at home or in a bar, surfing the web in an Internet cafT, or reading a magazine sitting on a bus. Even when individuals’ cognitive responses remain unobserved and there is no opportunity for interaction, the fact that others are physically present can affect cognitive activity (Levine, Resnick and Higgins 1993). We therefore experimentally investigate the effect of social context on cognitive response to advertisements.

The primary theme of our research is that the presence of others primes the goal of social desirability, of positive self-presentation (Edwards 1957). We do not merely treat this variable as a test-taking response bias, but as reflecting a more pervasive motivational determinant of individual behavior. Specifically, we hypothesize that the presence of others will prime the goal of social desirability and lead to a motivational state of impression management, a non-conscious process that can be entirely mental in the absence of direct social interaction. As a consequence, memory for cues with high applicability to this goal should be stronger and evaluative criteria should become driven by the activated goal (Bargh and Chartrand 1999).

In experiment 1, we examine the effect of social context (alone vs. next to a confederate) on the reception of television advertisements that advocate products associated with positive social impressions (e.g., perfume), negative social impressions (e.g., hemorrhoid ointments), or are neutral with respect to social goals (e.g., lip balm). In contrast to the 'alone’ condition, memory and evaluations in the 'next to a confederate’ condition should be facilitated for socially enhancing products, but attenuated for socially threatening products. We also investigate the effect of two personality traits: self-monitoring and social anxiety.

Self-monitoring is the active seeking of social acceptance (Gangestad and Snyder 2000). For high self-monitors, the facilitating effect on socially enhancing products should be amplified. High self-monitors should have better memory and evaluations for products that offer social desirability cues such as perfumes (DeBono and Krim 1997) and variety-offering products (Ratner and Khan 2002). A related but independent trait is social anxiety. Socially anxious individuals are hypersensitive to events perceived as a threat to self-evaluation (Mansell et al. 1999). Socially anxious individuals should engage in perceptional defense and show an attentional bias away from advertisements that threaten a socially desirable impression (e.g., hemorrhoid ointment). This effect should be amplified by the preence of others. In other words, whereas self-monitoring should affect the cognitive responding to products that have a positive effect on self-impressions, social anxiety should affect the cognitive responding to products that threaten self-impressions.

In experiment 2, we investigate the influence of seating arrangement on cognitive responses to advertisements. The physical position of others has been shown to affect group dynamics (Paulus and Nagar 1989), perceived expertise (Hart, Stasson and Karau 1999), and obedience to social influence (Milgram 1974). We manipulate the absence or presence of a confederate, and whether the confederate sits behind or in front of the participant. We expect high self-monitors to react more strongly to the presence of others when the confederate is sitting in front of them. This is because self-monitoring is an active behavior of wanting to belong, or fit in. The presence of another person in the field of vision should, therefore, have a particularly strong effect. In contrast, the effect of the presence of others should be particularly strong on socially anxious individuals when the confederate is sitting behind the participant. This is because the attentional bias for socially anxious individuals appears primarily under conditions of social-evaluative threats (Mansell et al. 1999). Pilot data shows that people feel as though they are being evaluated and that the confederate has "access to innermost thoughts" when sitting behind them.

These experiments comprise the first essay of the first author’s dissertation and data collection is to be completed by April 2003. We have conducted several pilot investigations that support the general effects (we have not yet investigated the effect of personality variables) and are confident in being able to present an exciting set of insights at the conference this summer. Social context has been an overlooked area of inquiry. We believe that the "mere presence" of others can have a profound and non-conscious effect on the ad-viewing behaviors of individuals, even when these behaviors are entirely mental and not observable by others. Our findings are not purely of academic interest, but should also be of interest to practitioners. For example, viewing conditions during advertising tests should consider matching the potential social contexts the advertisement is consumed in. The creative design of advertisements, such as a self versus other focus, may also be sensitive to the social context an advertisement is consumed in.



Suresh Ramanathan, University of Chicago, USA

Geeta Menon, New York University, USA

Consumers are often likely to be exposed to stimuli in the environment that activate some knowledge or goals temporarily. For example, seeing a display of cakes and desserts in the store may either activate one’s knowledge of related categories or may actually activate a goal to have something sweet. These constructs or goals could also be chronically accessible to some consumers either because of certain traits they possess (e.g., impulsivity, deal-proneness) or due to frequent instantiation by virtue of engaging in similar behaviors repeatedly. Several studies on accessibility have shown that temporary and chronic sources of accessibility influence judgments or evaluations independent of each other (e.g., Aaker and Lee 2001). In other words, if both sources of accessibility are concurrently in operation, evaluations are likely to be more extreme relative to when only one of the sources or neither of the sources is available. Thus, impulsive people may report a greater liking for a hedonic object (and potentially add it to their cart) when a hedonic goal is temporarily primed at the same time. Pitting chronic sources of accessibility against situational ones (i.e., contextual primes) in a study that also manipulated delay since the priming event, Bargh, Lombardi and Higgins (1988) found that with increasing delay since the priming episode chronics were more likely to use their chronically accessible construct instead of the primed alternative construct to categorize an ambiguous behavior.

The purpose of this study was to examine how people evaluated moderately hedonic objects as a function of their chronic and contextually primed hedonic goals. In particular, our focus was on the effect of delay, not in a between-subjects design, but in a within-subjects one, where we could examine the dynamic effects of the interaction between the chronic and situational sources of accessibility over time. The studies on accessibility cited earlier essentially found that people with chronic accessibility who are also primed contextually report more extreme evaluations. However, no study in the extant literature has examined the dynamics of such evaluations across time. Do the extreme evaluations reported earlier continue to get even more extreme with delay since the prime? Or, do they start high, and then decay to more neutral levels? Most importantly, are these evaluations automatic or more controlled? We expect this to be a function of the degree of chronicity of the underlying goal. We examine this particular question in the context of hedonic judgments as made by people with or without chronic hedonic goals, as operationalized by their impulsivity.

In a recent study, Bargh et al. (2001) pitted motivation against perceptual processes as an explanation for behavior. They argued, following from Atkinson and Birch’s (1970) dynamic theory of action that delay should cause an increase in the strength in the action tendency (due to lack of satiation) if indeed a goal was activated. On the other hand, if only a perceptual or non-motivational process such as knowledge activation is initiated, delay should either have no effect or should cause a decrease in activation over time. Following from this, we hypothesize that for those with chronic hedonic goals (impulsives), priming will activate a temporary hedonic goal (wanting something sweet) and that liking of hedonic objects related to the goal (e.g., desserts, ice-cream, etc.) will increase as a function of delay, intensifying in response to the lack of satiation of the jointly operating chronic and temporary hedonic goals. On the other hand, for non-impulsives who do not have such chronic goals, priming may only temporarily activate knowledge structures related to hedonic objects (one may think of desserts and ice-cream but not really want them). For such people, the priming task may cause evaluations of hedonic objects to go up temporarily, but then decline over time

Further, we hypothesize, following from the literature on accessibility, that impulsive people are likely to be faster at reporting their liking for hedonic objects as compared to non-impulsives. This is particularly likely when they are primed as well, so that both chronic and temporary sources of accessibility are operating simultaneously. In other words, we expect that such evaluations are likely to be efficient, a key dimension of automatic processing. On the other hand, non-impulsive people may show faster response times immediately following a prime due to temporary accessibility of their knowledge structures but the effect of the prime is expected to wear off after a delay. In other words, we expect non-impulsives to return to more controlled processing of stimuli after a delay.

A temporary hedonic goal was primed via having subjects evaluate breakfast cereals. In a subsequent task they were exposed to blocks of pictures of moderately hedonic products, some of which were related to the previously primed goal (to desire something sweet), such as desserts, candies, etc., while others were unrelated to the goal, such as steak, pizza, MP3 players, CDs, etc. Each block of six pictures consisted of two sweet foods, two non-sweet foods and two non-foods. Blocks were presented 5 seconds, 60 seconds and 150 seconds after the priming manipulation in a within-subjects design. Subjects were asked to give a like-dislike reaction, reaction times of which were measured. They were also asked to rate the intensity of their like-dislike reactions on a 100-point scale. As hypothesized, impulsive people (or those with chronic hedonic goals) showed progressively higher degrees of liking for sweet foods (but not of non-sweet foods or non-foods) with delay after they were primed. They were also significantly faster than non-impulsive people in responding to the like-dislike measure. Non-Impulsive people on the other hand showed a temporary increase in their liking for sweet foods 5 seconds after being primed, but liking scores declined to average levels 60 seconds and 150 seconds after the priming.

We conclude that the affective and motivational systems interact with each other in influencing judgments and behavior. There appears to be a feedforward mechanism at play such that a currently operating temporary goal interacts with chronic goals in influencing and strengthening the spontaneous affect felt upon seeing a hedonic object. This process is efficient, as evidenced by faster response times and hence at least partially automatic. We frame our results within a connectionist framework where perceptual, affective and motivational processes interact with each other.


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Suresh Ramanathan, University of Chicago, USA


E - European Advances in Consumer Research Volume 6 | 2003

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