How the Opinions of Others Affect Our Memory For Product Experiences

ABSTRACT - Consumers use previous evaluations of products and services as an input in choice, as advice to other consumers when they are searching for information to make their own choices, and as a factor when developing expectations for future experiences. Given that memory is so critical to current and future behaviour, it is essential to understand when it accurately reflects the past. Recent evidence suggests that memory for an experience can change after exposure to misleading advertising (Braun 1999) or critical reviews (Cowley & Caldwell 2001). In addition to advertising and reviews, consumers are also exposed to word-of-mouth (WOM). This research investigates when and how post-experience WOM comments can alter consumers’ memory of their evaluation of an experience, and whether an alteration in memory will affect purchase intention.



Citation:

Elizabeth Cowley (2003) ,"How the Opinions of Others Affect Our Memory For Product Experiences", in E - European Advances in Consumer Research Volume 6, eds. Darach Turley and Stephen Brown, Provo, UT : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 19-20.

European Advances in Consumer Research Volume 6, 2003      Pages 19-20

HOW THE OPINIONS OF OTHERS AFFECT OUR MEMORY FOR PRODUCT EXPERIENCES

Elizabeth Cowley, University of New South Wales, Australia

ABSTRACT -

Consumers use previous evaluations of products and services as an input in choice, as advice to other consumers when they are searching for information to make their own choices, and as a factor when developing expectations for future experiences. Given that memory is so critical to current and future behaviour, it is essential to understand when it accurately reflects the past. Recent evidence suggests that memory for an experience can change after exposure to misleading advertising (Braun 1999) or critical reviews (Cowley & Caldwell 2001). In addition to advertising and reviews, consumers are also exposed to word-of-mouth (WOM). This research investigates when and how post-experience WOM comments can alter consumers’ memory of their evaluation of an experience, and whether an alteration in memory will affect purchase intention.

MEMORY FOR EXPERIENCES

When recalling a past experience, all of the knowledge and information that is activated in memory, including information encountered both before and after the event, can be used. Instead of accessing an independently stored 'file’ of an event, retrieval is a process of reconstructing the past by combining information from many sources (for reviews see Koriat, Goldsmith, & Pansky, 2000; Schacter 1995; 1996) including post-experience information. In the Constructive Memory Framework (CMF; Schacter, Norman, & Koutstaal 1998) features, representing different aspects of the event, are distributed throughout memory. Two different types of information are necessary to ensure the accurate retrieval; feature binding and pattern separation. Feature binding ensures that all of the features can be brought together as a coherent trace. Source confusions, misremembering where or from whom information was heard, occur because of feature misbinding: the consumer remembers the details of the post-experience information, but misattributes the source. Pattern separation facilitates the selection of details of one situation from any other similar, yet different situation. Pattern separation failure occurs when similar, but different information is retrieved. Hearing words to describe an event can make it difficult to remember an experience (Melcher & Schooler 1996) by interfering with the separation of another consumer’s words from 'own’ thoughts or evaluations. In summary, the feature binding information provides a context for the sought-after information, pattern separation provides the focus to ensure retrieval of details matching the episode.

Word-of-mouth as Post-experience Information

WOM is defined here as any comment about a product or service made by a non-marketing source. Two pieces of information that are critical for a consumer to effectively manage the use of a WOM comment are the source and the details of the comment itself (Gilly, Graham, Wolfinbarger, & Yale, 1998). Between hearing a WOM comment and retrieving 'own’ evaluation for use in future decisions, the accessibility of these pieces of information may vary. Four possible situations for memory of the WOM comment are considered in the research presented here: explicit memory for the source or context of the comment (yes, no) and explicit memory for the details of the comment (yes, no).

PURCHASE INTENTION

When will altered memories affect future behaviour? In a memory-based choice setting, an important determinant of the attitude-purchase intention correlation is the how confident the consumer is in their memory for their evaluation. It has been shown that memories retrieved with more confidence are more likely to be used in choice (Cowley 2003). Therefore, it is expected that the evaluation-purchase intent correlation will be higher for those consumers indicating more confidence in a retrieved memory.

EMPIRICAL WORK

One hundred twenty six subjects were randomly assigned to one of two WOM conditions (immediate or delay), or to a control condition. Participants evaluated a film by marking an X on a 100mm scale anchored with 'liked the film very much’ to 'disliked the film very much’ after viewing a 10-minute excerpt. Subjects heard a confederate make a positive comment about the film immediately after (immediate condition) or 15 minutes later (delay condition). Subjects in the control condition heard a comment unrelated to the film. Later, subjects were asked to remember how much they said they liked the film earlier, and provided a confidence estimate. Recall, recognition of the comment and purchase intention measures were collected.

RESULTS AND DISCUSSION

WOM effect: The results reveal that WOM can affect memory for a consumption experience. Memory for the evaluation shifted positively in the treatment conditions (Mimmed=+11.18, Mdelay=+7.76), but not in the control condition (Mcontrol=1.66mm). There was no difference in the degree of memory distortion for the participants in the immediate and delay conditions (t=1.20, p=.24).

Memory for the WOM comment: Almost half of the participants in the WOM conditions did not explicitly recall that a comment about the movie had been made, yet their memory was still distorted after exposure to the comment. Even when cued with the statement, 19% of the participants did not remember the comment, yet memory distortion still occurred. There is preliminary evidence that feature binding errors and pattern separation failure explain much of the memory distortion found in this study, however memory distortion still occurred in the no recall, no recognition situation. This may be a result of fluency effects, but further research is necessary to test this explanation.

Forty four percent of the participants recalled hearing a comment and correctly recognised exactly what was said, and as Loftus, Feldman, and Dashiell (1995) found, the post-experience information still affected memory. Future research could include a measure asking the subjects if they believe the comment was consistent with their own thoughts.

Purchase Intention: Consumers that were more confident in their memory, yet no more accurate, reported a higher evaluation behavioural intention correlation. The importance of retrieval confidence has received relatively little attention. These results provide further evidence that retrieval confidence should be added to the list of variables affecting the attitude-behavioural intent relationship. Finally, memory for an evaluation mediates the relationship of initial evaluation and purchase intent. Memory for the evaluation is a more accurate gage of a consumer's intention to return (purchase intention) which has implications for the timing of satisfaction judgements. The impact of WOM pervades the decision process, not only is it important during information search or as part of an updating mechanism, but also as an influence on consumer Memory.

ACKNOWLEDGEMENT

This research was funded by an Australian Research Council Small Grant RMC2332 and a University Research Support Pro-grain grant.

REFERENCES

Braun, Kathryn A. (1999), "Postexperience Advertising Effects on Consumer Memory," Journal of Consumer Research, 25 (March), 319-334

Cowley, Elizabeth (in press), "Recognition Confidence, Recognition Accuracy and Choice," Journal of Business Research.

Cowley, Elizabeth and Marylouise Caldwell (2001), "Truth, Lies and Videotape: The Impact of Personality on Memory for a Consumption Experience," in Advances in Consumer Research, Vol. 28 eds. Joan Meyers-Levy and Mary Gilly, Provo, UT: Association for Consumer Research, 20-25.

Gilly, Mary C., John L. Graham, Mary Finley Wolfinbarger and Laura J. Yale (1998), "A Dyadic Study of Interpersonal Information Search, Journal of the Academy of Marketing Science, 26(2), 83-100.

Koriat, Asher, Morris Goldsmith, and Ainat Pansky (2000), "Toward a Psychology of Memory Accuracy," Annual Review of Psychology, 51, 481-537.

Melcher Joseph M. and Jonathan W. Schooler (1996) "The Misrememberance of Wines Past: Verbal and Perceptual Expertise Differentially Mediate Verbal Overshadowing of Taste Memory," Journal of Memory & Language, 35 (April), 231-245.

Schacter, Daniel L. (1995), "Memory Distortion: History and Current Status," in Memory Distortion: How Minds, Brains and Societies Reconstruct the Past, eds. Daniel L. Schacter et al., Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1-46.

Schacter, Daniel L. (1996), Searching For Memory, New York: Basic Books.

Schacter, Daniel L., Kenneth A. Norman, and Wilma Koutstaal, (1998), "The Cognitive Neuroscience of Constructive Memory," Annual Review of Psychology, 49, 289-318.

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Authors

Elizabeth Cowley, University of New South Wales, Australia



Volume

E - European Advances in Consumer Research Volume 6 | 2003



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