How Images of Other Consumers Influence Subsequent Taste Perceptions

Associate Professor Adam Duhachek, Kelley School of Business, Indiana University

4th Apr 2013  03:00 pm - Room 214/215, H69 - Economics and Business Building

Images of food are seemingly everywhere, yet the influence that such images have on important consumer outcomes is not well understood.

The authors propose that the effect that image exposure has on taste perceptions largely depends on the interaction between the type of food (hedonic vs. utilitarian) and whether the image shows the food alone (food image) or being consumed by a person (consummatory image). Specifically, the authors show that exposure to consummatory images prior to consumption actually increases taste perceptions relative to food images and that this effect occurs only for hedonic foods.

To explain this effect, the authors argue that seeing an image of someone else indulging in a hedonic food serves as social proof for the appropriateness and acceptability of hedonicconsumption. As such, images of consumers eating act as a licensing agent for real consumers, thereby reducing the conflict associated with the subsequent hedonic consumption experience and in effect, increasing taste perceptions.

The authors test this licensing effect across six studies and eliminate rival explanations pertaining to emotional contagion, goal contagion and source attractiveness.