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Dr. Maureen Morrin
Dr. Maureen Morrin

Could a spicy cinnamon scent persuade you to buy a Lexus? A professor from the Fox School of Business thinks so.

Dr. Maureen Morrin, Professor of Marketing at the Fox School, and a collaborative research team found a definitive connection between warm scents, consumer preference for luxury (more expensive items), and an increase in overall spending.

“If there is a warm scent in the room, people perceive the room to be smaller, and more full of other people,” Morrin said, citing the research findings of she and her team. “As a result, they feel a little less socially powerful. In order to restore their feeling of power, they prefer premium or luxury brands.”

Morrin and her research colleagues (Dr. Adriana Madzharov of the Stevens Institute of Technology, and Dr. Lauren Block of Baruch College) published the findings of their scent-power correlation research in the Journal of Marketing in January 2015. Their research also received mention in Science Daily. The study is believed to be the first of its kind to examine how temperature-related associations with smell affect our spatial perceptions and sense of self-importance.

For her most-recent study, Morrin and her colleagues exposed test subjects to two identical retail environments, and then subtly manipulated the scent in each atmosphere to be either warm, like spicy cinnamon, or cool, like minty menthol. They found that consumers exposed to the warm scents felt less socially powerful, finding the room crowded and overwhelming. To assuage their insecurities, they not only purchased more goods, but showed a preference for luxury items assumed to increase one’s social status, Morrin said. Conversely, those participants in cool-scented environments showed no inclination toward or against the luxury items, and bought less overall.

“Cool scents tend to work in an opposite direction than warm scents in terms of their impact on how powerful you feel within a given environment,” Morrin said.

Morrin, whose research interests include sensory processing and consumer decision-making, has always been interested in pioneering studies regarding the correlation between scent and consumer behavior.

The idea of warm and cool scents emerges from learned associations between foods and scents that can influence our conscious perceptions. When one smells menthol, the association is immediately with mint, which to our taste buds is cool, Morrin said, while vanilla and cinnamon evoke opposite reactions.

Morrin’s study revealed that not only can scent prime our emotions, it actually alters our idea of ourselves in space. Morrin’s test subjects reported increased crowding in rooms with warmer scents when the population remained constant. Conversely, the shoppers in cool-scented rooms reported increased spatial perception and a reduced number of people in the room.

Should retailers take advantage of these findings, Morrin said the market for luxury goods can be targeted acutely.

“Retailers of luxury goods might consider how their store’s atmospherics impact shoppers’ spatial perceptions,” she said. “Aspects of the retail environment that elicit power-compensatory consumer responses might lead to a greater preference for and purchasing of luxury brands.”

Morrin said she hopes to continue her investigation, and is currently working with several doctoral students from the Fox School to investigate other ties between scent and consumer behavior. The next step, she said, could be determining how ambient scents, especially those outside of our conscious awareness, could influence our purchase choices.

Brian Holtz
Dr. Brian Holtz, Assistant Professor of Human Resource Management

Initial impressions based upon a person’s facial features can significantly impact how we evaluate that person’s behavior, according to research by a professor from Temple University’s Fox School of Business.

Dr. Brian Holtz, Assistant Professor of Human Resource Management, conducted three studies, all of which suggested that people were more likely to accept the actions of an individual whom they initially perceived to be trustworthy.

New York Magazine and the United Kingdom’s Daily Mail recently featured Holtz’s research, which was initially published in the journal Personnel Psychology.

Holtz’s studies draw on prior psychological research demonstrating that certain facial features stimulate impressions of trustworthiness (high inner eyebrows and prominent cheekbones), while others (low inner eyebrows and shallow cheekbones) have the opposite effect.

In his first two studies, Holtz introduced participants to the biography of a fictitious CEO, which included a professional headshot, and then asked participants to gauge the CEO’s trustworthiness. Later, the participants read a description of a meeting in which the CEO announced a temporary pay reduction and were asked to evaluate how the CEO handled the situation. The subjects, Holtz said, were unaware that he had manipulated the CEO’s image to reflect either a trustworthy or untrustworthy face.

The image on the left reflects the characteristics of a face stimulate trustworthiness, while the image on the right has the opposite effect. (Source: Cogsdill et al. (2014). Psychological Science. Retrieved from https://osf.io/c5kme/)
The image on the left reflects the characteristics of a face stimulate trustworthiness, while the image on the right has the opposite effect. (Source: Cogsdill et al. (2014). Psychological Science. Retrieved from https://osf.io/c5kme/)

He found that participants who viewed the trustworthy face, tended to give the CEO the benefit of the doubt and judge the CEO’s actions to be fair. In contrast, participants who viewed an untrustworthy face evaluated the same actions to be significantly less fair.

“In essence, these results illustrate a confirmation bias, such that our initial expectations of others are often confirmed,” Holtz said. “If we expect a person to be trustworthy, for example, then we are more inclined to perceive their behavior in a favorable light.”

Participants of his third study – undergraduate students from Temple University – were asked to write a business-related memo that they were led to believe would be evaluated by a Fox School MBA student. Before writing the memo, participants viewed the LinkedIn profile of an MBA student purportedly assigned to evaluate their memo. In reality the LinkedIn profiles were fabricated to present either a trustworthy or untrustworthy face. In addition to earning research credit, participants were told they could earn a cash bonus of up to $6 depending on the quality of their memo.

Two days after the initial session, participants received a written evaluation of their memo, and were informed that they would receive a $3 cash bonus – “an ambiguous, down-the-middle ranking,” Holtz said. Then, the participants completed a questionnaire designed to assess their view of the MBA student’s evaluation of their work.

“Again, the results suggested that initial impressions of trustworthiness shaped how fairly the participants thought they were treated by the MBA student, even though all participants received the exact same outcomes,” Holtz said.

“Ultimately,” he continued, “the key takeaway point from this research is that we form initial impressions very quickly and, for better or worse, our initial impressions can have cascading effects on how we perceive subsequent interactions with others.”

Youngjin YooThe National Science Foundation (NSF) has awarded a research team from Temple University a three-year grant totaling nearly $900,000 to fund a social-science project into the tracking of human behaviors through big data.

This marks the fourth NSF-awarded grant in the last five years that an interdisciplinary team of Temple faculty members has received to study the evolution of digital artifacts using large-scale digital trace data. The collaboration joins researchers from Temple University’s Fox School of Business and College of Science and Technology (CST).

“When humans interact with digital systems, we leave a trace. Every call we make, every website we visit, it’s stamped with time and space information,” said Dr. Youngjin Yoo, the Harry A. Cochran Professor of Management Information Systems at the Fox School, and the research grant’s primary investigator. “What we do is constantly changing, and the trace data can act as DNA. What we focus on through this research is the repeat behaviors in humans that can be captured through digital trace data.

“Using those evolutionary patterns, we believe we can predict future behaviors of individuals and organizations. For example, by detecting the changes of commute patterns of individuals, we can predict overall public-transit systems’ performance in the future. Similarly, we want to be able to predict the changes in individual behaviors based on environmental changes.

Yoo said he and the grant’s co-principal investigators will study digitally enabled processes in complex digital systems, which “are like a living ecosystem, in that they constantly evolve,” he said. If patterns in the trace data represent what they call “behavioral genes,” Yoo said, alterations to those behavioral routines are “gene mutations.” Eventually, he said, the research team envisions developing software that will better predict the changes to those behavioral genes.

The benefits in doing so, according to Yoo, “are endless.” In a healthcare application, trace data could develop a pattern by which a patient sees a doctor or produce an average cost of care per patient. In an industry sense, such “gene mutations” could impact performance and cost.

“On the surface,” Yoo said, “all smart phones, for example, look the same. But everybody’s phone is different because of apps. It used to be that the product’s designer would make the product, and that was the end of the story. Now, it’s only the beginning. Millions of apps are downloaded. They’re changing constantly.

“Our argument is that, particularly in digital space, innovation never remains the same. It constantly changes and takes different forms.”

The research team includes: Yoo; Dr. Sunil Wattal, Associate Professor of Management Information Systems at the Fox School; Dr. Zoran Obradovic, Laura H. Carnell Professor of Data Analytics at CST; and Dr. Rob Kulathinal, Assistant Professor of Biology at the College of Science and Technology.

The NSF-awarded research grant runs through Jan. 31, 2018.

The Time Warner Medialab, Innerscope Research and Temple University’s Center for Neural Decision Making (CNDM) at the Fox School of Business have announced the results of a comprehensive study of this year’s Super Bowl ads that reinforced the power of emotion and compelling storytelling.

The research teams used a combination of biometric and fMRI (functional magnetic resonance imaging) technologies to monitor viewers’ skin conductance, heart rates, respiration, motion and brain activation to get a more thorough understanding of how consumers reacted to different ads. The findings showed that brands that took audiences on an emotional journey – including Cheerios, Chevrolet, Budweiser and Hyundai – delivered the highest moments of engagement.

“It’s exciting to have the research capabilities to literally go inside the brain of the consumer to find out what’s driving engagement,” said Kristen O’Hara, senior vice president and chief marketing officer, Time Warner Global Media Group. “These findings deepen our understanding of consumer behavior, and we will continue to push the boundaries of ad research to ensure that we’re delivering the most effective content to our consumers and our business partners.”

This year’s top-performing ads took viewers on journeys featuring relatable characters in stories that slowly developed. General Mills’ Cheerios told an intimate story of a growing family featuring a daughter who bargains with her father for a new puppy; Hyundai’s “Sixth Sense” commercial took viewers through the relationship between a father and son; Budweiser told a heartwarming story of determination through a puppy trying to meet up with a Clydesdale horse; and Toyota’s “Joyride” ad brought viewers along for a fun ride with the Muppets. The fMRI results validated the initial biometric study’s findings of increased engagement among the top 10 performers, which were announced last week.

“Traditional measures capture aspects of cognition, but advertisers need to know more than what people consciously think about ads,” Innerscope Research Co-founder and Chief Science Officer Dr. Carl Marci said. “In order to go deeper into areas of the brain, you need tools like fMRI that can help you understand the mechanisms that allow ads to break through the clutter.”

The biometrics study was conducted live during the Super Bowl while Innerscope monitored 80 participants to capture fluctuations in heart rate, skin conductance, and breathing patterns at the company’s Media Lab and facilities in Boston and the Time Warner Medialab in New York.

“The biggest challenge here was to conduct a study of academic rigor within an industry timeframe,” said Khoi Vo, senior research associate at CNDM and lead researcher on the fMRI study.

Ads that performed well on biometrics also elicited increased brain activity, relative to ads that performed poorly, in key areas of interest for marketers. These included brain regions associated with emotional relevance (amygdala), memory formation (hippocampus) and executive function (lateral prefrontal cortex).

Among top-performers, ads like those from Cheerios and Volkswagen elicit emotional responses as well as activating two additional regions of the brain commonly associated with valuation and reward – the ventromedial prefrontal cortex and ventral striatum. These areas are consistent with prior work conducted by Temple CNDM in the area of advertising effectiveness research.

“It is exciting to see some consistency across studies, as well as convergence across methodologies – in this case biometrics and fMRI,” said Dr. Angelika Dimoka, director of CNDM. “The Center has been at the forefront of advancing research in consumer neuroscience through its emphasis on strong theoretical frameworks, multi-methodological approaches and convergent validity. Though consumer neuroscience has been criticized in the past for lacking in these aspects, this study moves the needle on all fronts and represents a significant advancement in the field.”

 

Researchers at Temple University’s Fox School of Business are conducting a comprehensive study to assess to what extent neurophysiological responses and other measures of reactions to advertisements can predict the sales performance of TV ads.

Temple’s Center for Neural Decision Making, based at the Fox School, earned a grant from the Advertising Research Foundation (ARF) to evaluate approximately 300 participants’ responses to 35 TV ads from a group of ARF member firms, including major companies in the technology, financial, pharmaceutical and consumer-goods industries. The ARF, founded in 1936, is the premier foundation in the advertising industry for creating and sharing knowledge.

The researchers will employ traditional survey responses and six neurophysiological methods: eye tracking; skin conductance response, which measures arousal; heart rate; breathing; and brain activity as recorded through fMRI (functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging) and EEG (electroencephalographs). The research team will then compare its results with an analysis of sales data led by Russell Winer of New York University’s Stern School of Business to see which of the measures did the best job of predicting market performance.

“It’s a great opportunity to compare all these methodologies with each other, which has never been done before,” said Angelika Dimoka, director of the Center for Neural Decision Making and an associate professor of marketing and management information systems (MIS). “We’ll also be able to identify specific points in the 30-second commercials that can help us further understand what drives sales.” Dimoka is leading the study with MIS Professor Paul A. Pavlou and Vinod Venkatraman, an assistant professor of marketing and supply chain management and associate director of the Center for Neural Decision Making.

Jim Thompson, a Fox alumnus and executive-in-residence at the center, facilitated the relationship with the ARF by inviting members of the foundation and other practitioners to participate in the second annual Interdisciplinary Symposium of Decision Neuroscience, held in 2011 at Temple.

“This was a unique conference in that both academics and commercial practitioners attended and participated,” said Thompson, former global president and CEO of Ipsos ASI, a leading advertising research company. “It was the credibility of that conference that facilitated this collaboration, and it clearly established the Center for Neural Decision Making as the leader in bridging scholarly academic research with industry practice.

ARF members that are supporting the project will be able to glean insight from the comprehensiveness of the study, which would likely be cost prohibitive for just one firm to conduct, while also benefitting from the scholarly rigor of it. An advisory board constituted of top academic and industry experts is overseeing each method the center uses, to ensure protocols are designed, executed and analyzed correctly.

“This is a differentiating point for Temple and the Fox School,” Thompson said of the project and the Center for Neural Decision Making. “If companies are doing anything at all with neuroscience or biometrics, Temple could be the first school they think of as a result of this study.” –Brandon Lausch