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Stanford GSB Study Finds Attitudes Can Predict Results

Stanford Attitude Study

The Stanford Graduate School of Business recently revealed new research that explores the conflict between how you feel, how you want to feel and how your desire to close the gap between the two are more predictive of the outcome.

Stanford marketing professor and consumer behavior researcher S. Christian Wheeler, along with co-authors Kenneth G. DeMarree of the University at Buffalo, Cory J. Clark of Florida State, Pablo Briñol of Spain’s Universidad Autónoma de Madrid, and Richard E. Petty of Ohio State, conducted four studies to “gauge how people’s actual attitudes and desired attitudes govern their actions.”

Wheeler explains his motivations behind the study:

“Previous work has shown that discrepancies between actual and desired attitudes cause discomfort. It’s a tension people are motivated to reduce. People don’t like having discrepancies in their attitudes. So we wanted to examine the effects of that. Do people act and think differently because of those discrepancies?”

For instance, if one likes to eat at McDonald’s but desires to actually dislike it, “that negative desired attitude also predicts behavior.” The study also illuminated that “people [who] sometimes desire to have different attitudes than what they actually hold … are likely to seek out favorable information, even if [their] actual attitude is less favorable.”

Wheeler further explains, “One way to think about the study is that people are deliberately constructing their information environments in order to reach their desired evaluations, which in some cases can mean undermining their actual attitudes.”
Reality constraints can occasionally overpower constructions of reality when it comes to shifting attitudes, says Wheeler. “You may wish you liked your job more than you do, and you may find ways to make it more palatable, but maybe your job really is bad.”

The practical applications of the research has enormous potential. The fourth of the four studies “suggests that marketers can adapt products to meet consumers’ desired attitudes, or consumers can change their tastes to achieve a desired attitude.”

Wheeler elaborates, “You may want to like peaty scotches or hoppy IPAs, but maybe you haven’t yet developed a taste for them. Acquired tastes are examples of when people successfully shift their actual attitudes more in line with their desired attitudes.”

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About the Author

Jonathan Pfeffer
Jonathan Pfeffer

Jonathan Pfeffer joined the Clear Admit and MetroMBA teams in 2015 after spending several years as an arts/culture writer, editor, and radio producer. In addition to his role as contributing writer at MetroMBA and contributing editor at Clear Admit, he is co-founder and lead producer of the Clear Admit MBA Admissions Podcast. He holds a BA in Film/Video, Ethnomusicology, and Media Studies from Oberlin College.

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