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July 10, 2009

Are We Hardwired to Love Our iPhones?

Catherine New
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Why do we love our iPhones so? Of course the reasons for the gadget’s immense popularity are many, but consider this: the device’s interface — complete with colorful pictures and icons — may activate the part of our brain associated with emotional processing, and that, in turn, may lead to greater consumer preference for the best-selling phone.

In a new study published in the Journal of Consumer Research, Professor Leonard Lee, with his colleagues Dan Ariely at Duke University and On Amir at the University of California San Diego, found that decisions made with emotional processing, such as a gut decision, rather than cognitive processing (analyzing the pros and cons) tend to be more consistent. And consistency is, after all, what we humans really crave. Indeed, there is long-standing evidence in social psychology that we aim for consistency across all our beliefs and attitudes.

“How happy or satisfied we are by our preferences is driven by consistency to some extent,” says Lee. “When we use emotional processing to make decisions, we can actually be more satisfied with our choices.”

Lee found that certain attributes elicit more emotion-based decisions. For example, a color photo of an object rather than black and white text describing its features provokes more emotional, and thus more consistent, decisions in people. He also found, in another study, that some products might naturally elicit more emotional processing than others.

“Even if the product is essentially utilitarian and elicits more cognitive processing, we can put a more emotional layer on it so we can better elicit emotional processing,” says Lee.

For marketers and product designers, the implications are manifest — the big, shiny red button will outperform that wonky features list when it comes to giving consumers a choice that they will feel satisfied with.

“For many consumer products, it makes sense for marketers to use as many affective cues or emotional cues to elicit consumers’ emotional processing rather than just listing all the features of a product, which might induce greater cognitive processing,” says Lee.

Photo credit: David Pham