Consumer research can benefit greatly from more insight into unconscious processes underlying behavior. Williams and Poehlman's effort at more clearly conceptualizing consciousness and call for more research provides a welcome stimulus in this regard. At the same time, providing evidence for unconscious causation is fraught with methodological difficulties. We outline why it is vital to uphold standards of evidence for claims regarding unconscious processes, as it is precisely a lack of rigor on this front that has generated a countermovement by researchers skeptical of dual-process models in general and unconscious processes in particular. We contend that the skeptics have offered valid causes for concern, which we leverage to formulate six concrete recommendations for future research on consciousness. Researchers should (1) specify the process level at which they claim evidence for unconscious processes, (2) not confuse unconscious influences with unconscious processes, (3) carefully choose between different operational definitions of awareness, (4) maximally satisfy four criteria for awareness measures, and (5) complement measurement with experimental manipulations of awareness. Finally, we recommend to (6) refrain from hard claims about unconscious causation that transcend the limitations of the evidence, recognizing that consciousness is a continuous construct.

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ERIM Top-Core Articles
Journal of Consumer Research
Rotterdam School of Management (RSM), Erasmus University

Sweldens, S., Tuk, M., & Hütter, M. (2017). How to study consciousness in consumer research, a commentary on Williams and Poehlman. Journal of Consumer Research, 44(2), 266–275. doi:10.1093/jcr/ucx044