From the Lab: The Value of Touch

In yesterday’s blog post, we saw that the physical presence of a item (as compared to an image of it or a description of it), can lead to greater perceptions of the item’s value. As it turns out, this effect can be further enhanced by allowing the audience to touch the item.

In a 2007 study by Bianca Grohmann, Eric Spangenberg, and David Sprott, they found that when participants were allowed to touch a variety of products, they evaluated those products even more favorably than when the products were merely present. (Other studies have found that they were also more likely to buy them.) Their findings suggest a hierarchy of perceived value: a product that is touched > a product that is present > a product that is pictured > a product that is described. It also provides more evidence for the value of props, particularly when the audience is allowed to handle them.

Additional research has revealed several important caveats to this rule, however.

First, this hierarchy only holds true when the quality of a product is high. Obviously, when the quality of a product is low, touch will not improve perceptions of its value. In fact, when low quality products can readily be compared to high quality products, touch actually reduces perceptions of their value.

Second, allowing people to touch a product only increases their perception of its value when there is something of value about the product can be revealed by the touching. For example, while allowing people to touch a fluffy towel will increase its value, allowing people to touch a DVD case will not.

Third, if an object has been touched by other people first, people may actually impart lower value to it. In other words, touch by others can have a contaminating effect on the product. However, if someone highly attractive touches the product, this can actually increase its value.

From the Lab: The Power of Props

In The Science of Speaking, I note that props can be an effective supplement to (or replacement for) traditional visual aids. A 2010 study by Benjamin Bushong et al. suggests that props can be even more effective than visuals. In particular, when an item is physically present in the room, people attribute significantly higher value to it than when an image of the item is shown.

In the study, participants were presented with a food item, then asked how much they would be willing to pay for it. There were three different methods of presenting the food item: “1) a text condition, in which only the text descriptor (the product name) was shown, 2) an image condition, in which the high-resolution image of the food was shown, and 3) a real condition, in which an open package of the food item was displayed on a tray.” In the real condition, people were willing to pay 59% more ($1.13) for the food item than when it was presented through an image ($0.71) or text description ($0.68)!

Then they repeated the experiment with non-food items. Although the effect was not quite as great for non-food items, participants were still willing to pay 41% more for an item that was present ($1.42) than an item that was picture ($1.01) or described ($1.02)!

As this study shows, props can literally pay, so whenever you have one you can use, go for it!