Imagine a shiny new BMW sitting in your driveway. Now, imagine a shiny new Hyundai. Now, come up with one reason why you should drive that BMW. How about ten reasons? What about the Hyundai? A little bit harder isn’t it? An article in the June 2005 issue of the Journal of Consumer Research explores how and why consumers use prior information to decide to buy a BMW or a Hyundai.
According to the research of Alice Tybout (Northwestern University) and colleagues, the ability to come up with one reason to drive a BMW rather than ten reasons is a result of retrieval ease, a knee-jerk phenomenon differs from judgments, considered content-based, that seek to bring in more facts.
“The present research offers evidence that knowledge accessibility influences whether judgments depend primarily on retrieval ease or on content. Content-based judgments occur when relevant knowledge is either inaccessible or highly accessible. In these circumstances, the difficulty or ease experienced in generating and retrieving reasons is anticipated and therefore is not perceived as diagnostic. Instead, judgments reflect a consideration of the available content. By contrast, when knowledge is moderately accessible, retrieval ease has a dominant effect on judgments,” write the authors.
The authors explain that consumers may make more judgments based on quick thinking rather than lengthy contemplation. “A growing number of investigations document the finding that the ease with which information comes to mind may serve as the basis for judgment,” they write. “Our conclusion that judgments based on retrieval ease are likely to occur only under special circumstances converges with research in other paradigms that have investigated how the process of thinking affects judgment.”