In Store for You

Kevin Lewis

March 14, 2020

Thinking of You: How Second-Person Pronouns Shape Cultural Success
Grant Packard & Jonah Berger
Psychological Science, forthcoming

Why do some cultural items succeed and others fail? Some scholars have argued that one function of the narrative arts is to facilitate feelings of social connection. If this is true, cultural items that activate personal connections should be more successful. The present research tested this possibility in the context of second-person pronouns. We argue that rather than directly addressing the audience, communicating norms, or encouraging perspective taking, second-person pronouns can encourage audiences to think of someone in their own lives. Textual analysis of songs ranked in the Billboard charts (N = 4,200), as well as controlled experiments (total N = 2,921), support this possibility, demonstrating that cultural items that use more second-person pronouns are liked and purchased more. These findings demonstrate a novel way in which second-person pronouns make meaning, how pronouns' situated use (object case vs. subject case) may shape this meaning, and how psychological factors shape the success of narrative arts.

The Perils of Private Provision of Public Goods
Umit Gurun, Jordan Nickerson & David Solomon
University of Texas Working Paper, January 2020

In May 2018, in response to protests, Starbucks changed its policies nationwide to allow anybody to sit in their stores and use the bathroom without making a purchase. Using a large panel of anonymized cellphone location data, we estimate that the policy led to a 7.3% decline in store attendance at Starbucks locations relative to other nearby coffee shops and restaurants. This decline cannot be calculated from Starbucks' public disclosures, which lack the comparison group of other coffee shops. The decline in visits is around 84% larger for stores located near homeless shelters. The policy also affected the intensive margin of demand: remaining customers spent 4.1% less time in Starbucks relative to nearby coffee shops after the policy enactment. Wealthier customers reduced their visits more, but black and white customers were equally deterred. The policy led to fewer citations for public urination near Starbucks locations, but had no effect on other similar public order crimes. These results show the difficulties of companies attempting to provide public goods, as potential customers are crowded out by non-paying members of the public.

How the Avengers assemble: Ecological modelling of effective cast sizes for movies
Matthew Roughan, Lewis Mitchell & Tobin South
PLoS ONE, February 2020

The number of characters in a movie is an important feature. However, it is non-trivial to measure directly, for example naive metrics such as the number of credited characters vary wildly. Here, we show that a metric based on the notion of ecological diversity as expressed through a Shannon-entropy based metric can characterise the number of characters in a movie, and is useful in taxonomic classification. We also show how the metric can be generalised using Jensen-Shannon divergence to provide a measure of the similarity of characters appearing in different movies, for instance of use in recommendation systems, e.g., Netflix. We apply our measures to the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), and show what they teach us about this highly successful franchise of movies. In particular, these measures provide a useful predictor of success for films in the MCU, as well as a natural means to understand the relationships between the stories in the overall film arc.

Prime and Punishment: Can Enforcements Stop Illicit Sellers on E-Commerce Platforms?
Mehmet Canayaz
Pennsylvania State University Working Paper, January 2020

This paper provides the first exploration of how illicit sellers operate on e-commerce platforms and how they respond to enforcements. I use a novel data set of 71 million illicit - i.e., fraudulent, counterfeit, or replica - items that were removed from online marketplaces. By using natural language processing and computer vision techniques on these products and by quietly tracking business activities of the illicit sellers, I identify a large number of similar but previously unnoticed illicit products (UIPs) that are currently sold online. For each illicit product that was previously removed, I detect 16.91 UIPs. Of these, 84% remained on the market during the one-year period after the removal of the initial illicit product. Nonetheless, the total market value of these products decreased by up to 80% after enforcements. My findings suggest that enforcements against illicit products on e-commerce platforms encourage separating equilibria, in which illicit sellers have weaker incentives to pool with authentic producers than to be revealed as low-quality producers.

How insecure narcissists become cultural omnivores: Consuming highbrow culture for status seeking and lowbrow culture for integrity signaling
Hanna Shin & Nara Youn
Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity, and the Arts, forthcoming

Prior research on cultural omnivorousness has focused on examining how socioeconomic mechanisms influence preferences for highbrow versus lowbrow culture. Considering the recent prevalence of cultural omnivorousness and growing criticism of class-based perspectives on cultural tastes, this research instead investigates how two personality traits - namely, narcissism and psychological insecurity - affect cultural consumption. We predicted that when individuals high in narcissism had a sense of insecurity - specifically, low self-esteem or low self-perceived authenticity - they would show preferences for both highbrow culture, which signals status, and lowbrow culture, which signals self-integrity. Two experiments provide support for that hypothesis, showing that the interactive effect of narcissism and psychological insecurity on preference for highbrow culture is associated with status seeking, whereas the interactive effect on preference for lowbrow culture is associated with self-integrity signaling.

The Enhancing Versus Backfiring Effects of Positive Emotion in Consumer Reviews
Matthew Rocklage & Russell Fazio
Journal of Marketing Research, forthcoming

Researchers, marketers, and consumers often believe that amplifying emotional content is impactful for the spread of information and purchasing decisions. However, there is little systematic investigation of when emotionality backfires. This research demonstrates when and why positive emotion can have enhancing versus backfiring effects. The authors find that reviewers who express greater positive emotion are indeed more positive toward their products, regardless of product type. In addition, expressed emotion for hedonic products has a positive impact when read by others, but this emotion backfires for utilitarian products, leading others to be less positive. The authors construct a conceptual model of these effects and show that violated expectations leading to decreased trust underlie this divergence between reviewers and readers. The effects occur in well-controlled experiments as well as computational linguistic analysis of 100,000 Amazon reviews across 500 products. Indeed, emotional reviews of utilitarian products are less likely to become popular and be displayed on the product's front page on Amazon. This work also introduces a novel tool for quantifying natural language in marketing: the Evaluative Lexicon.

Unemployment rate predicts anger in popular music lyrics: Evidence from top 10 songs in the United States and Germany from 1980 to 2017
Lin Qiu et al.
Psychology of Popular Media, forthcoming

Popular music has been shown to reflect cultural characteristics and psychological change in a society. However, little is known about how popular songs are related to the socioeconomic conditions. In this research, we analyzed the annual top 10 songs from United States and Germany between 1980 and 2017, and found that the unemployment rate predicted the amount of anger but not anxiety or sadness in lyrics in both countries. Our research contributes to the literature on popular media culture by revealing that top song lyrics may reflect public sentiment toward the socioeconomic environment. It highlights the possibility of using top song lyrics as an alternative measure of public sentiments.

Digitization and Pre-Purchase Information: The Causal and Welfare Impacts of Reviews and Crowd Ratings
Imke Reimers & Joel Waldfogel
NBER Working Paper, February 2020

Digitization has led to product proliferation, straining traditional institutions for product discovery; but digitization has also spawned crowd-based rating systems. We compare the relative impacts of professional critics and crowd-based Amazon star ratings on consumer welfare in book publishing. We assemble data on daily Amazon sales ranks, star ratings, and prices for thousands of books in 2018, along with information on their professional reviews in several major outlets. Using various fixed effects and discontinuity-based empirical strategies, we estimate that a New York Times review raises estimated sales by 78 percent during the first five days following a review; and the elasticity of sales with respect to an Amazon star is about 0.75. We use these causal estimates to calibrate structural models of demand for measuring the welfare impact of pre-purchase information in a way that respects the distinction between ex ante and ex post utility. The aggregate effect of star ratings on consumer surplus is roughly 15 times the effect of traditional review outlets. Crowd-based information now accounts for the vast majority of pre-purchase information, but the absolute effects of professional reviews have not declined over time.

Leaving Something for the Imagination: The Effect of Visual Concealment on Preferences
Julio Sevilla & Robert Meyer
Journal of Marketing, forthcoming

When advertising products to consumers, firms sometimes conceal key aspects in an effort to arouse consumer curiosity. This research investigates when and how visual concealment tactics may benefit or hurt aesthetic product evaluations. The authors propose that when consumers are only able to view a portion of an aesthetic product, assessments of its appeal will be influenced by two interrelated mechanisms: curiosity to see the item completed and inferences about the item's fully disclosed appearance. The authors show that heightened curiosity triggers feelings of positive affect that are transferred to the product itself, a process that may inflate preferences and choice likelihoods for products beyond what would occur if the full image were known. This transference effect, however, has an important boundary: it works only when initial consumer inferences about the appeal of the product are positive or emotionally congruent with the positive affect triggered by curiosity. The key implication is that, ironically, the products likely to benefit most from concealment tactics are those that have the least to hide. The authors provide evidence for these effects and the underlying mechanism using six experiments that manipulate concealment in a variety of task settings.

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