The role of narratives in consumer information processing

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JOURNAL OF CONSUMER PSYCHOLOGY, 7(3), 207-245 Copyright Q 1998, Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc.

The Role of Narratives in Consumer Information Processing
Rashmi Adaval and Robert S. Wyer, Jr.
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Participantsestimated the attractiveness of vacations described in 2 travel brochures. The information about 1 vacation was conveyed in a narrative thatdescribed the sequenceof events that would occur. In contrast,information about the other vacation was conveyed in an ostensibly unorganized list. Vacations were generally evaluated more favorably when they were described in a narrative than when their features were simply listed. Moreover, this difference increased when (a) negative features of the vacations were mentioned, (b) picturesaccompanied the text information, or (c) recipients were encouraged to imagine themselves having the experiences described. Although narrative forms of information elicited more extreme affective reactions than list forms, this did not account for the difference in their effectiveness. Rather, the advantage of narratives was attributed to (a) their structural similarity to information acquired through dailylife experiences and (b) the use of a holistic-as opposed to a piecemeal-strategy for computingjudgments. Much of the social information we acquire in daily life is transmitted to us in the form of a narrative. That is, it is conveyed in a thematically and temporally related sequence. The representation of this information in memory, and the way it is used to make judgments and decisions, havebeen the subject of research and theorizing not only in cognitive psychology (Graesser, 1981; Rubin, 1986; Schank & Abelson, 1977, 1995) but also in social cognition (Wyer, 1995), developmental psychology (Miller, 1994; Nelson, 1986), and personality (McAdams, 1988). The importance of these concerns is graphically exemplified by Schank and Abelson's (1995) claim that virtually all of the importantsocial knowledge that people acquire and retain in memory consists of "stories" that they construct from their personal and social
Requests for reprints should be sent to Rashmi Adaval, Department of Business Administration, L or University of Illinois, 1206 S. Sixth St., Champaign, I 61820, E-mail:; Robert S. Wyer, Jr., Department of Psychology, University of Illinois, 603 E.Daniel St., Champaign, IL 61820, E-mail:



experiences. These stories provide the basis for (a) comprehending new experiences; (b) making judgments and decisions about the persons, objects, and events to which the stories refer; and (c) developing general attitudes and beliefs concerning these referents. Schank and Abelson's (1995) assertion that allimportant social knowledge is in narrative form is probably overzealous (Brewer, 1995; Rubin, 1995). Nevertheless, the fact that much of the social information we acquire is represented in memory in this form seems uncontrovertible.' This article explores the role of narratives in consumer judgment and decision making. Many theories of consumerjudgment implicitly assume that, when people evaluateproducts, they examine the implications of each piece of information separately and then sum or average these implications to form an overall judgment (Anderson, 1981; Fishbein & Ajzen, 1975).However, purchasing decisions do not always involve a piecemeal computational procedure. Rather, potential buyers may often try to imagine the sequence of events that surround the purchase and use of aproduct in various situations and the consequences of this use. For example, consumers who are in the market for a camera may imagine themselves visiting several stores, purchasing the camera, reading the manual, experimenting with the camera's special features, taking it on a vacation, and photographing a beautiful sunset. Specific features of the camera (e.g., its size and weight, its price, the...
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