News Release

New research reveals how repeated product warnings are remembered as product recommendations

Particularly by the elderly

Peer-Reviewed Publication

University of Chicago Press Journals

"Telling people that a consumer claim is false can make them misremember it as true," note Ian Skurnik (University of Toronto) and Carolyn Yoon (University of Michigan) in the introduction to their article in the March 2005 issue of the Journal of Consumer Research. Most significantly, their research concludes that older adults are more susceptible to this phenomenon than other consumers, possibly making them targets for confusing advertising and marketing campaigns.

"Our experiments document a paradoxical effect of warnings: The more often older adults were told that a given claim is false, the more likely they were to accept it as true after several days have passed," write Skurnik and Yoon. "Similarly, warning older adults that a previously seen claim of unknown validity is actually false increases acceptance of this claim as true"

The authors explain that while people's long-term memory retains a familiarity with a certain prior experience, the context and specifics of that experience tend to recede over time. Thus, you might not remember repeated claims that a certain brand is bad as much as you'll remember that brand. This, note the authors, is particularly problematic when memory issues facing all of us are confounded by memory problems that arise as one ages. Skurnik and Yoon conclude: "We expect that older adults are less likely than younger adults to recall whether consumer information was acquired from a trustworthy or untrustworthy source."

The authors offer a very pragmatic application of this research, particularly when it comes to protecting older consumers. "Our findings have important public policy implications for protecting older consumers, who constitute the most vulnerable targets of scams. The FTC reports that a disproportionate number of consumer fraud victims, some 80% or more, are 65 or older (FTC 1999-2001). Our findings highlight the risks of merely identifying a given claim as unsubstantiated or false, a communication strategy commonly employed by regulators."


How Warnings About False Claims Become Recommendations. IAN SKURNIK, CAROLYN YOON, DENISE C. PARK, and NORBERT SCHWARZ. © 2005 by JOURNAL OF CONSUMER RESEARCH, Inc. - Vol. 31 - March 2005
All rights reserved.

Disclaimer: AAAS and EurekAlert! are not responsible for the accuracy of news releases posted to EurekAlert! by contributing institutions or for the use of any information through the EurekAlert system.