When making it easy leads to working harder: The effects of popularity cues on consumer decision making

Erin Younhee Ha, Tiffany Barnett White, Robert S. Wyer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Consumers are often assumed to use consensus cues (e.g., cues indicating a product's popularity) as a heuristic to reach conclusions about products' desirability without carefully considering specific information about a product's attributes (Burnkrant and Alain 1975; Salganik et al. 2006; Shugan 1980; West and Broniarczyk 1998). Moreover, decision complexity is typically assumed to increase the use of consensus information and, correspondingly, to decrease attention to product attribute information (Gino and Moore 2007; Johnson et al. 1988; Shugan 1980). In fact, however, these assumptions may not always hold. We investigated the circumstances under which product popularity increases the tendency to process product attribute information and consequently leads to more confident decisions and a higher likelihood of purchasing unpopular as well as popular items. We propose that product popularity can increase consumers' consideration of attribute information when they perceive a gap between what they know about the product category in general and what others seem to know about the specific product being promoted. This gap in their knowledge increases the consumers' epistemic curiosity (Loewenstein 1994) and consequently increases their attention to attribute information and the influence of this information on judgments. We further show that consumers' epistemic curiosity (and thus their attention to attribute information) is greater when a large number of unfamiliar options are presented with popularity cues, and thus the gap in their knowledge is more apparent. It also depends on consumers' perceptions of their expertise in the product domain in question. If consumers consider themselves to be novices in this domain, they may use popularity cues to reduce their uncertainty about their decision, leading to greater conformity and less attention to the available attribute information. When people believe that they are knowledgeable about a product, however, they tend to be sensitive to the gap between their general knowledge and others' knowledge about the particular product. Consequently, they are curious about the reasons for the others' judgments when consensus cues are provided, and are more motivated to process attribute information in this condition, leading the information to have greater influence on their judgments than it would in the absence of consensus cues.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)765-766
Number of pages2
JournalAdvances in Consumer Research
StatePublished - 2012

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Applied Psychology
  • Economics and Econometrics
  • Marketing


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