The secrecy effect: Secret consumption increases women's product evaluations and choice

Maria A. Rodas, Deborah Roedder John

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Advertisers often depict their products being consumed in a social setting, but they also depict people secretly consuming their products. Will consumers like a product more if they are prompted to consume it in secret? We report eight studies, where women consumed and evaluated products such as cookies, chocolate, and apple chips. Women in secret consumption conditions were instructed to imagine eating the food in secret, instructed to hide the food from others while consuming it, or shown an advertisement encouraging eating the food in secret. These secret consumption prompts resulted in more positive product evaluations and increased product choice, compared to evaluations in non-secret conditions. We identify preoccupation and attitude polarization as the primary drivers for these outcomes. When women consume a product in secret, they become preoccupied with the product, as thoughts about the product continually pop into mind. Increased thinking leads to attitude polarization, where evaluations for products they like become even more positive. Finally, we also identify moderators of these secrecy effects.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1093-1109
Number of pages17
JournalJournal of Consumer Research
Issue number6
StatePublished - Apr 1 2020
Externally publishedYes


  • attitude polarization
  • product choice
  • product evaluation
  • secret consumption

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Business and International Management
  • Anthropology
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)
  • Economics and Econometrics
  • Marketing


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