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Tippie Research Finds That Blissfully Ignorant Shoppers are Happier with Their Choices

When it comes to shopping, researchers at the University of Iowa have found that sometimes ignorance really is bliss.

In what they term the Blissful Ignorance Effect, researchers at the university's Tippie College of Business found that people who have only a little information about a product are happier with that product than people who have more information.

"We found that once people commit to buying or consuming something, there's a kind of wishful thinking that happens and they want to like what they've bought," said assistant professor of marketing Dhananjay Nayakankuppam. "The less you know about a product, the easier it is to engage in wishful thinking. But the more information you have, the harder it is to kid yourself. This can be contrasted with what happens before taking any action when people are trying to be accurate and would prefer getting more information to less."

Nayakankuppam conducted the research with Himansha Mishra, a former UI graduate student now teaching at the University of Utah, and Baba Shiv of Stanford University. Their paper, "The Blissful Ignorance Effect," will be published in a forthcoming issue of the Journal of Consumer Research.

The researchers used three experiments to arrive at their conclusion. Two of them were consumer test-style experiments in which subjects were asked for their opinion of chocolate in one and hand lotion in the other. In each experiment, one group of subjects was given lots of information about the product, the other group much less. In each instance, the subjects who had little information were more optimistic about the chocolate or hand lotion than those who had more information.

In the third experiment, subjects were given the opportunity to pick a video to watch. They were told one of the movies had received uniformly good reviews from critics, while the other received mixed reviews. Although more of the subjects selected the movie they were told had received uniformly good reviews, those who selected the movie believing it had mixed reviews were more optimistic about their choice.

Nayakankuppam said that the Blissful Ignorance Effect demonstrates that people have a need to be happy with their choice, and will often engage in whatever distortion is needed to justify the purchase. That means playing up the positive aspects while downplaying the negatives.

Nayakankuppam said prior research has shown that before people make a buying decision, they generally like to take an objective, clear-headed view of the products they're considering. During this phase, so-called accuracy goals play a larger part of a person's thinking because they want to buy the product that best meets their needs at a reasonable cost. His research, however, shows that once a decision has been made, the Blissful Ignorance Effect takes hold and the buyer makes that emotional commitment to a decision.

He said the data suggests a shift in peoples' motivations. While they have a need to be accurate before taking some action, post-action it is the directional need to justify a conclusion that is more important, he said.

"Once we've committed to something, we want to be happy about the decision and that drives our perceptions about it," said Nayakankuppam. "It's your decision, it's a part of you, and that creates an emotional attachment. It's sort of like your kid and you want to like it no matter what."

In that way, he said the less we know about something, the easier it is to create our own conceptions about it. For instance, he said that if we don't know the chocolate we're eating has hundreds of calories, we can convince ourselves that it isn't expanding our waistline.

Although the research used inexpensive items like chocolate and hand lotion in its experiments, Nayakankuppam said the Blissful Ignorance Effect could apply to bigger ticket items, too, such as cars or houses. However, since people tend to do more research before buying expensive items and thus would have more information, the effect would be more limited.


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