This research studies a fundamental and seemingly straightforward question: Can basic advertising elements, such as the presence of attractive imagery, have uncontrollable effects on consumers' attitudes and consumption decisions? Answering this question is methodologically challenging, because the presence of an uncontrollable process can be masked by a simultaneously operating controllable process. We argue first that existing methods conflate the contribution of both processes and are therefore unable to measure the presence of an uncontrollable process reliably. To solve the conundrum, we present a novel application of processing tree modeling. Evaluative conditioning is employed as a paradigm to study the influence of affective visual stimuli on attitudes and behavior. Across six experiments, we demonstrate the validity of the model parameters estimating controllable and uncontrollable processes. As predicted, the parameter estimate of the controllable process is susceptible to cognitive resources and levels of motivation to exert control. The parameter estimate of the uncontrollable process appears unaffected by these factors. We also demonstrate the external validity of our findings and their relevance to stimuli and instructions typical for consumer research. Finally, we find that controllable and uncontrollable processes are both predictive of product choice and consumption.We discuss implications for consumer protection.

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Journal of Consumer Research
Rotterdam School of Management (RSM), Erasmus University

Hütter, M., & Sweldens, S. (2018). Dissociating controllable and uncontrollable effects of affective stimuli on attitudes and consumption. Journal of Consumer Research, 45(2), 320–349. doi:10.1093/jcr/ucx124