Whose tastes do you trust more? The person who loves the same things you love? Or the person who hates the same things you hate? Turns out, when we’re looking for advice, positivity reigns. A new study reveals that we trust those who love the same things we love more than those who hate the same things we hate. As the researchers explain in the March issue of the Journal of Consumer Research, "There are few ways that products are loved, but many ways that they are hated."
Through a series of experiments, Andrew D. Gershoff (University of Michigan), Ashesh Mukherjee (McGill University), and Anirban Mukhopadhyay (Hong Kong University of Science and Technology) reveal that we are more willing to take the advice of someone with shared likes than someone with shared dislikes because of "attribute ambiguity." That is, consumers find it hard to isolate exactly what the recommender didn’t like – the offending characteristic of a movie, say, could be plot, acting, special effects, or any number of other factors.
"For a loved product, most people tend to love everything about it, and tend to hate nothing. But for a hated product, some people hate everything about it, some hate just one aspect while liking other aspects, and some like all the aspects individually, but hate how they go together," the authors explain.
One of the experiments presented in the study asked 120 people to anticipate another person’s taste in ice cream sundaes. As predicted, agreement on loved characteristics, such as hot fudge, led to greater inferred similarity and more confidence in the other person’s recommendations. However, when the number of possible factors was reduced to one scoop of ice cream with one topping, confidence increased in the person with shared hates.
"Our results extend the literature on word-of-mouth, which has generally found that negative word-of-mouth about products is weighed more heavily than corresponding positive word-of mouth," write the authors. "In contrast, we show that a positivity effect can emerge when the object of evaluation is the agent instead of the product."
Gershoff, Andrew D., Ashesh Mukherjee, and Anirban Mukhopadhyay. "Few Ways to Love, But Many Ways to Hate: Attribute Ambiguity and the Positivity Effect in Agent Evaluation," Journal of Consumer Research: March 2007.