The Product-Agnosia Effect: How More Visual Impressions Affect Product Distinctiveness in Comparative Choice

The Product-Agnosia Effect: How More Visual Impressions Affect Product Distinctiveness in Comparative Choice

By
Jayson Shi Jia, Baba Shiv, Sanjay Rao
Journal of Consumer Research. August
2014, Vol. 41, Issue 2, Pages 342-360

Consumer choice is often based on the relative visual appeal of competing products. Lay intuition, common marketing practice, and extant literature all suggest that more visual impressions help consumers distinguish products. This research shows that the opposite can occur. Rather than highlighting differences, seeing more pictures of products being compared can obfuscate perceptions, reduce distinctiveness and attractiveness of products, and increase choice uncertainty. Six experiments demonstrate that this “product-agnosia” effect is driven by shifts in the perceptual focus level of visual information processing. More visual impressions increased component-oriented and decreased gestalt-oriented perceptual focus, which undermined the distinctiveness of products distinguished on a gestalt level (e.g., by style). The effect reversed for products distinguished on a component level (e.g., by technical features). Overall, the efficacy of “showing more” depended on matching consumers’ visual-processing style and the level (gestalt vs. component) at which products are differentiated.