Touch Does Affect Flavor
Does coffee in a flimsy cup taste worse than coffee in a more substantial cup? Firms such as McDonalds and Starbucks spend millions of dollars every year on disposable packaging, but a new study suggests that trying to skimp in this area might not be worth it — and may negatively impact consumers’ perceptions of taste and quality.
In a series of four experiments, Aradhna Krishna (University of Michigan) and Maureen Morrin (Rutgers University) find that many people do indeed judge a drink by its container. Specifically, the firmness of a cup seems to have an impact on consumer evaluations of the beverage contained inside.
“We found that the nondiagnostic haptic qualities of a product package or serving container can affect how a product is evaluated; that is, such cues can indeed have an effect on product evaluation,” the researchers write.
Not everyone has the same sensitivity to touch, though, the researchers explain. They first performed a pretest to determine which participants were strong autotelics — the sort of people who like to touch things before they buy them — and which participants were not particularly inclined to touch products (low autotelics).
Participants then evaluated the feel of the cups while blindfolded or in an evaluation in which they could both feel and see. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the largest difference in ratings for the firm and the flimsy cups was in the blindfolded condition among those most sensitive to touch.
However, the researchers also found that those who like to touch are least influenced by touch in taste evaluations. Indeed, in a taste test of the same mineral water from both a flimsy and a firm cup, it was low autotelics who gave the most negative evaluations of the taste of the water in the flimsy cup.
The results were similar when participants were just told about the containers in a written description and did not actually feel them: Low autotelics expressed a willingness to pay more for a firm bottle of water, while high autotelics did not.
The researchers explain: “High (vs. low) autotelics receive more pleasure from touching objects, tend to touch them more, and are more consciously aware of the potential effect of haptic clues on product judgment. As a result, they are more capable of adjusting for such clues in their product judgments when they are nondiagnostic in nature.”
Journal of Consumer Research April 2008 – Ahead of Print, Page 000
Does Touch Affect Taste? The Perceptual Transfer of Product Container Haptic Cues
Aradhna Krishna Maureen Morrin, John Deighton served as editor and Laura Peracchio served as associate editor for this article.
We develop a conceptual framework regarding the perceptual transfer of haptic or touch-related characteristics from product containers to judgments of the products themselves. Thus, the firmness of a cup in which water is served may affect consumers’ judgments of the water itself. This framework predicts that not all consumers are equally affected by such nondiagnostic haptic cues. Results from four studies show that consumers high in the autotelic need for touch (general liking for haptic input) are less affected by such nondiagnostic haptic cues compared to consumers low in the autotelic need for touch. The research has many implications for product and package design.
Electronically published October 17, 2007