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The “Visual Depiction Effect” in Advertising: Facilitating Embodied Mental Simulation through Product Orientation

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This research demonstrates that visual product depictions within advertisements, such as the subtle manipulation of orienting a product toward a participant’s dominant hand, facilitate mental simulation that evokes motor responses. We propose that viewing an object can lead to similar behavioral consequences as interacting with the object since our minds mentally simulate the experience. Four studies show that visually depicting a product that facilitates more (vs. less) embodied mental simulation results in heightened purchase intentions. The studies support our proposed embodied mental simulation account. For instance, occupying the perceptual resources required for embodied mental simulation attenuates the impact of visual product depiction on purchase intentions. For negatively valenced products, facilitation of embodied mental simulation decreases purchase intentions.
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Journal of Consumer Research, Inc.
The “Visual Depiction Effect” in Advertising: Facilitating Embodied Mental Simulation
through Product Orientation
Author(s): Ryan S. Elder and Aradhna Krishna
Source:
Journal of Consumer Research,
Vol. 38, No. 6 (April 2012), pp. 988-1003
Published by: The University of Chicago Press
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2011 by JOURNAL OF CONSUMER RESEARCH, Inc. Vol. 38 April 2012
All rights reserved. 0093-5301/2012/3806-0002$10.00. DOI: 10.1086/661531
The “Visual Depiction Effect” in Advertising:
Facilitating Embodied Mental Simulation
through Product Orientation
RYAN S. ELDER
ARADHNA KRISHNA
This research demonstrates that visual product depictions within advertisements,
such as the subtle manipulation of orienting a product toward a participant’s dom-
inant hand, facilitate mental simulation that evokes motor responses. We propose
that viewing an object can lead to similar behavioral consequences as interacting
with the object since our minds mentally simulate the experience. Four studies
show that visually depicting a product that facilitates more (vs. less) embodied
mental simulation results in heightened purchase intentions. The studies support
our proposed embodied mental simulation account. For instance, occupying the
perceptual resources required for embodied mental simulation attenuates the im-
pact of visual product depiction on purchase intentions. For negatively valenced
products, facilitation of embodied mental simulation decreases purchase intentions.
For years, marketers have included instructions for con-
sumers to imagine using their product. Slogans like
“Imagine the Possibilities” from Intel and Apple, or merely
“Imagine” from Samsung, encourage consumers to transport
themselves into a state in which they are using the product.
The success of such appeals has been well documented
within the consumer behavior literature (e.g., Bone and Ellen
1992; Gregory, Cialdini, and Carpenter 1982; MacInnis and
Price 1987; McGill and Anand 1989; Petrova and Cialdini
2005, 2008). But what causes consumers to imagine using
the product in the absence of such pleas? Can just the way
in which a product is visually depicted (e.g., to the right or
to the left) affect the extent to which consumers imagine
using the product? Is this something the advertiser should
Ryan S. Elder (rselder@byu.edu) is assistant professor of marketing at
the Marriott School of Management, Brigham Young University, Provo,
UT 84602. Aradhna Krishna (aradhna@umich.edu) is the Dwight F. Benton
Professor of Marketing at the Ross School of Business, University of
Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI 48109. This article is based on the first author’s
dissertation under the guidance of the second author. The authors thank
the other members of the dissertation committee—Rajeev Batra, Jerry
Davis, and Norbert Schwarz—for their feedback and support. Funding for
this research was provided by a Rackham Research grant awarded to Ryan
S. Elder from the University of Michigan.
Baba Shiv served as editor and Pierre Chandon served as associate editor
for this article.
Electronically published June 29, 2011
give attention to? Within this article, we build on recent
models of cognition and perception to show that simply
altering the way a product is visually depicted can elicit
more (or less) mental simulation of product interaction and
that this can result in higher (or lower) purchase intentions.
Specifically, we focus on how orienting a product toward
one’s dominant hand—for instance, showing a picture of a
mug with the handle on the right—facilitates simulation of
using the product, which affects behavioral intentions.
The theory of grounded cognition holds that our bodily
states, actions, and even mental simulations are used to gen-
erate our cognitive activity (Barsalou 2008). One of the more
prominent findings within this literature is the effect of bod-
ily states on persuasion. For instance, Wells and Petty (1980)
show that participants nodding their heads up and down (vs.
side to side) leads to increased persuasion of an editorial
message. Additionally, participants holding a pen between
their teeth (facilitating the muscles used during smiling)
evaluate funny cartoons to be funnier than when holding a
pen between their lips (limiting the use of muscles used
during smiling; Strack, Martin, and Stepper 1988). Partic-
ipants also evaluated novel Chinese ideographs more fa-
vorably when their arms were flexed versus extended, pro-
ducing a pulling motion toward oneself versus pushing
away, respectively (Cacioppo, Priester, Berntson 1993).
More recent research supporting the concept of embodied
cognition has focused on metaphorical transfers of mean-
ings. For example, participants rated hypothetical individ-
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THE VISUAL DEPICTION EFFECT 989
uals more positively on socially warm characteristics when
they had previously held a warm (vs. cold) cup of coffee
(Williams and Bargh 2008). In an opposite causal direction,
participants who felt socially excluded were prone to rate
the temperature of the experimental room as colder than
those who did not feel socially excluded (Zhong and Leon-
ardelli 2008).
Despite the recent interest in embodied cognition, bodily
states are only one of the ways in which cognition is
grounded (Barsalou 2008). Mental simulation, or the reen-
actment of perceptual experiences, is another way in which
cognition is grounded and is the focus of the current re-
search. By mental simulation, we are referring to a more
automatic form of mental imagery that is initiated by ex-
posure to verbal or visual representations of objects. Spe-
cifically, we show that visual depictions of an object (e.g.,
a mug with the handle on the right or the left) can lead to
more (vs. less) embodied mental simulation (picking up the
mug and drinking from it) and result in higher (vs. lower)
purchase intentions for the object (the mug). Across a series
of four studies, we provide support for this primary hy-
pothesis, while additionally explicating the process involved
and providing boundary conditions.
In the first set of studies (studies 1a and 1b), we show
that visual stimuli that orient the product toward the partic-
ipant’s dominant hand can facilitate simulated interaction
with the product depicted, which leads to heightened pur-
chase intentions. In our second study, occupying the per-
ceptual resources required for simulation (by occupying par-
ticipants’ hands) is shown to affect the visual depiction
effect. Our third study explores the visual depiction effect
for negatively valenced stimuli. Finally, our fourth study
examines the mediating role of mental simulation in our
hypothesized process.
We begin by establishing the theoretical foundation for
our hypothesized effects, with a review of relevant literature
on mental simulation, our primary process of interest. Four
experiments follow that test these hypotheses. We conclude
by addressing specific contributions of the research, as well
as by presenting future directions in this area.
LITERATURE REVIEW
The theory of grounded cognition—as related to mental
simulation—posits that our initial perceptions of objects,
both conscious and nonconscious, are stored in memory and
are simulated or played back on subsequent encounters with
not only the object itself but also representations of that
object, such as verbal and visual depictions. For example,
when we eat a chocolate, the brain encodes and integrates
all of the different sensory perceptions related to the choc-
olate (e.g., how it looks, what it feels like when you bite
into it, what it tastes like on your tongue). When we later
produce knowledge of chocolate, we mentally simulate prior
perceptions associated with the chocolate, leading to neural
activation of many of the same sensory regions of the brain
active during perception (Barsalou 2008). Several neuroim-
aging studies corroborate this proposition, as conceptual
processing of sensory perceptions leads to neural activation
of corresponding regions of the brain. For example, imag-
ining the music of Beethoven leads to activation of the
auditory cortex (Zatorre and Halpern 2005), passively read-
ing words like “cinnamon” or “garlic” leads to neural ac-
tivity in the primary olfactory cortex (Gonza´lez et al. 2006),
and viewing images of chocolate chip cookies activates the
primary (frontal operculum/insula) and secondary (orbito-
frontal cortex; Rolls 2005) taste cortices (Simmons, Martin,
and Barsalou 2005).
Motor Simulation
One of the more intriguing consequences of the percep-
tion-cognition connection is that what we see visually is
used to prepare our motor responses (Jeannerod 2001). That
is, we draw on our knowledge of prior interactions to simulate
interaction with surrounding stimuli. If the visual depiction
affords interaction, our mind gets ready for that action through
simulation of our prior experiences. This connection be-
tween vision and motor simulation has been explored in
both neural and behavioral contexts.
Within the neuroscience literature, this connection be-
tween vision and motor response has been examined using
several imaging technologies. Chao and Martin (2000) had
participants view and name several different images while
in an fMRI scanner, and they show that viewing and naming
“tools” leads to activation in premotor areas of the brain
(whereas it does not for “animals,” “houses,” or “faces,”
which have a weaker connection between visual and motor
response). Using positron emission tomography (PET),
Gre`zes and Decety (2002) show similar results. When par-
ticipants viewed images of objects and determined whether
the object was upright or inverted, or silently named the
action the object is used for, the researchers found neural
activity within the motor areas of the brain. Thus, simply
viewing the object led to similar neural activity as using the
object.
The conclusions from the neuroscience literature on the
connection between vision and motor response have been
additionally supported by behavioral research. Tucker and
Ellis (1998) showed that participants were quicker to judge
the orientation of an object (upright or inverted) if thehandle
of the object and the hand of response were in alignment.
Specifically, if the object’s handle was oriented toward the
right hand, the right-hand key press was significantly faster
than the left-hand key press. The researchers showed that
in addition to orientation, object size plays a role in simu-
lated motor response (Tucker and Ellis 2001). In one ex-
periment, participants were instructed to distinguish between
a natural versus a manufactured item. Participants responded
by pressing one of two buttons—one button was pressed by
using the index finger and thumb (precision grasp—such as
that used to hold a grape); the other button was pressed by
squeezing the three fingers and palm of the hand (power
grasp—such as that used to hold a banana). When partici-
pants viewed smaller (larger) objects that would be easier
to hold with a precision (power) grasp, participants were
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990 JOURNAL OF CONSUMER RESEARCH
quicker to categorize them with the precision (power) grasp.
The researchers propose that mental simulation of the motor
response leads to this quickened response time in these stud-
ies, as the mind is ready for interaction.
In Tucker and Ellis’s (1998, 2001) research, participants’
motor response mimics (or not) their mental motor response
to the stimuli—in the “mimic” condition, response is found
to be faster than in the “do-not-mimic” condition. Thus,
when participants see an object held with a precision grasp
like a grape versus a power-grasp object like a banana, they
respond faster to the former when using a precision grasp
(mimic condition) and faster to the latter when using a power
grasp (mimic condition). When participants see an object
oriented toward the right versus the left hand, they respond
faster with the right hand (mimic condition).
But, what if the mental simulation has no motor connec-
tion with the experimental motor response? Can the mental
simulation still affect the measured variable? To carry on
with our example of the mug, will the mental simulation of
picking up and drinking from a mug with the handle on the
right (vs. the left) affect the response a participant gives on
a purchase intention scale (note that the motor actions of
the participant’s response on the scale have no connection
with the embodied mental simulation of using the mug)?
Further, apart from affecting quickness of response, will
mental simulation also affect an actual cognitive response
like purchase intention?
In order to answer these questions, we build on the lit-
erature we just reviewed and some additional literature. The
neuroscience literature we reviewed and also Tucker and
Ellis’s (1998, 2001) work does suggest that visual stimuli
(e.g., products) can result in mental simulation of motor
activity (e.g., interacting with the product). Further, the abil-
ity to imagine behavioral scenarios has been shown to have
a large impact on intentions to perform such behaviors (An-
derson 1983; Gregory et al. 1982; Schlosser 2003). Indeed,
imagined behavior can influence intentions without directly
affecting attitudes (Schlosser 2003). In the former studies,
participants were explicitly asked to imagine product inter-
action behaviors (Anderson 1983; Gregory et al. 1982), or
the experimental stimuli varied in the level of actual product
interaction (e.g., a Web site that allows object interaction
vs. a Web site that does not; Schlosser 2003). As opposed
to the more explicit manipulations of product interaction in
these former studies, we are focusing on a more subtle
form—that of visual depictions of products inducing the
embodied mental simulation. We propose that the simulated
experience from visual depiction will also affect purchase
intentions in a manner similar to actual interaction. Since
we anticipate visual depictions to lead to imagined behavior,
and not necessarily alter perceptions through an affective
route (see also Nowlis and Shiv 2005; Shiv and Nowlis
2004), we focus on the effect of visual depiction on purchase
intention.
As such, we propose that:
H1a: Visual stimuli depicting a positively valenced
product that facilitate more (vs. less) embodied
mental simulation will result in higher (vs.
lower) behavioral intentions.
The visual depiction effect suggests that some visual de-
pictions are more able to allow the observer to mentally
simulate picking up and interacting with the product than
others, thereby increasing purchase intentions.
Valence of Stimuli
We anticipate greater mental simulation to increase be-
havioral intentions only when the stimulus is positively va-
lenced. When the stimulus is negative, increasing mental
simulation should lead to a decrease in behavioral intentions.
Valence also allows us to disentangle our proposed pro-
cess from an alternative account of perceptual fluency. Prior
research has shown perceptual fluency to have a purely pos-
itive effect on a stimulus (Reber, Winkielman, and Schwarz
1998; Winkielman and Cacioppo 2001).
Mental simulation and perceptual fluency, therefore, make
similar predictions when the stimulus is positive. However,
when the stimulus is negative, the two models make distinct
predictions. Simulating a negative experience should be
more negative. The availability-valence hypothesis claims
that as participants elaborate on a message, additional cues
are stored in memory on the basis of the vividness of this
information or instructions to imagine (Kisielius and Stern-
thal 1984, 1986). Should this information be positive, the
available information when making evaluations should also
be positive; however, the contrast is true when the available
information is negative. Hence, for a negative or aversive
experience, the ability to mentally simulate the experience
should make it more negative. Thus:
H1b: Visual stimuli depicting a negatively valenced
product that facilitate more (vs. less) embodied
mental simulation will result in lower (vs.
higher) behavioral intentions.
Hypotheses 1a and 1b also implicitly assume that:
H2: The amount of embodied mental simulation will
mediate the impact of visual product depiction on
purchase intentions.
Demonstrating Process—Impeding Mental
Simulation by Perceptual Limitations
We examine the impact of occupying perceptual resources
on reducing the ability to mentally simulate. The connection
between perception and cognition is so direct that they often
compete for the same resources. Indeed, recent research has
established similar neural activity for perception and imag-
ination (Kosslyn, Ganis, and Thompson 2001; Simmons et
al. 2005; Zatorre et al. 1996). This competition for resources
has been shown on a behavioral level as well (Unnava,
Agarwal, and Haugtvedt 1996).
Recent research also shows that blocking the ability to
perceive has consequences on cognition. Rauscher, Krauss,
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THE VISUAL DEPICTION EFFECT 991
FIGURE 1
CONCEPTUAL FRAMEWORK
and Chen (1996) show that restricting the ability to make
physical gestures when recounting a scene with spatial di-
mensions impairs participants’ ability to describe the scene.
Oberman, Winkielman, and Ramachandran (2007) showed
that by activating the facial musculature used during smiling
(zygomaticus major), participants were less able to mimic
facial expressions and were consequently worse at recog-
nizing happy faces.
More recently, Havas and colleagues (2010) show that
similar restrictions on facial activity inhibit related cognitive
activity. Participants in the study were Botox patients who
received injections in their brow to remove frown lines,
effectively paralyzing the musculature used in furrowing
one’s brow. Participants were significantly slower to un-
derstand angry and sad sentences after the Botox treatment
than before, as they were not able to generate the facial
expressions used corresponding to those emotions.
The prior literature suggests that if one occupies physical
perceptual resources, it will affect related cognitions. We
propose that by occupying the perceptual resources used in
motor response, the ability to mentally simulate a motor
response will be reduced. Therefore, the effects of visual
product depiction on simulated product interaction and
hence on purchase intentions will be attenuated when per-
ceptual resources are active. As we will be focusing on
motor simulation, we anticipate that occupying the hands
in a task while viewing the stimuli will reduce the impact
of visual depiction on purchase intentions. We hypothesize
that:
H3: Impeding mental simulation by occupying per-
ceptual resources will attenuate the visual depic-
tion effect on behavioral intentions.
Figure 1 shows the complete conceptual framework, as
well as a brief overview of the contribution each experiment
makes to the proposed model. Studies 1a and 1b establish
the basic visual depiction effect that orienting a product to
facilitate embodied mental simulation will affect purchase
intentions. This basic effect (hypothesis 1a) is also tested in
the other three studies. Study 2 provides support for the
proposed mental simulation account by imposing perceptual
constraints (testing hypothesis 3). In study 3, we test whether
the visual depiction effect will be reversed for negatively
valenced stimuli (hypothesis 1b). Finally, in study 4, we
provide evidence for our hypothesized process by examining
the mediating role of mental simulation (hypothesis 2).
STUDY 1: TESTING THE BASIC VISUAL
DEPICTION (GREATER MENTAL
SIMULATION) EFFECT
Study 1a: Yogurt
Overview and Method. Study 1a tests our basic hypoth-
esis (hypothesis 1a) that visual stimuli depicting a positively
valenced product that facilitate more (vs. less) mental sim-
ulation will result in higher (vs. lower) purchase intentions.
Our stimuli were images of a bowl of yogurt with a headline
reading “Smooth Vanilla Yogurt” (see fig. A1 in the ap-
pendix). Two versions of the stimulus feature a spoon on
either the right or the left side of the bowl. The inclusion
of the spoon was meant to facilitate mental simulation. We
created the two versions of the experimental stimuli (spoon
on left or right) by simply flipping the image over a vertical
axis using photo-manipulation software. We additionally in-
cluded a control condition wherein the spoon was removed.
Thus, in total there were three versions of the stimulus to
give us a simple one-factor design with object orientation
as the manipulated independent variable.
One hundred and twenty-one participants were recruited
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992 JOURNAL OF CONSUMER RESEARCH
to complete the study from an online survey panel. Partic-
ipants in the survey were told that they would be evaluating
products and were then presented with the image of the
yogurt bowl. Participants were told to view the image for
as long as they desired before proceeding to the questions
regarding the product. Our dependent variable was the par-
ticipants’ likelihood of purchasing the yogurt. Specifically,
we asked participants, “How likely would you be to purchase
this yogurt?” (1 pnot at all likely; 7 pvery likely). Par-
ticipants also indicated their gender, as well as their hand-
edness for eating (right or left). After answering the ques-
tions, participants were thanked for their time and proceeded
to a second, unrelated questionnaire.
Results and Discussion. Handedness of the participants
is a key individual difference variable that can affect our
results. A match between spoon orientation and handedness
(right or left) should facilitate mental simulation more than
a mismatch. That is, if the orientation was directed to the
right and the participant was right-handed (coded as a
match—similarly done for left orientation of spoon and left-
handedness), mental simulation should be facilitated. This
coding procedure is followed before analysis in all subse-
quent studies.
Our main hypothesis (hypothesis 1a) is that the orientation
of the spoon handle will influence the participants’ behav-
ioral (i.e., purchase) intentions. As such, our analysis fo-
cused on the participants’ stated purchase intentions for the
yogurt. We conducted a one-way ANOVA with purchase
intentions as the dependent variable and match of orientation
as the independent variable. We also included gender as a
covariate; however, it was not significant here or in any of
the subsequent studies and is not discussed further.
Thirteen percent of the participants were left-handed. We
recoded the initial orientation independent variable to rep-
resent a match, mismatch, or control condition. We next
conducted a one-way ANOVA with orientation as the in-
dependent variable and purchase intentions as the dependent
variable. This initial omnibus test was significant (F(2, 118)
p3.43, ), and we proceeded to explore our plannedp!.05
contrasts. Our initial hypothesis maintains that visual stimuli
that facilitate more (vs. less) mental simulation will result
in higher (vs. lower) purchase intentions. The first set of
planned contrasts explored the difference between the match
and the mismatch conditions. As hypothesized, when the
spoon orientation matched the participant’s dominant hand,
purchase intentions were significantly higher than when the
orientation did not match (M
match
p5.76, M
mismatch
p4.70;
F(1, 118) p4.20, ).p!.05
The control condition allows us to gauge whether the
match between orientation and handedness increases pur-
chase intentions or whether the mismatch decreased pur-
chase intentions. Additionally, the inclusion of an instrument
to facilitate mental simulation allows us to provide support
for mental simulation. Should the results follow from a men-
tal simulation account, removing the instrument that facil-
itates mental simulation should attenuate the impact of initial
orientation on purchase intentions. Thus, the match condi-
tion should lead to higher purchase intentions than the con-
trol condition. Additionally, there should not be a significant
difference between the mismatch and the control conditions,
as mental simulation is not facilitated in either. Two planned
contrasts supplement the initial findings. In exploring the
difference between the match and the control conditions,
we find that as predicted, purchase intentions for the yogurt
are significantly higher when the orientation of the spoon
matches the participant’s dominant hand than when the
spoon is removed (M
match
p5.76, M
control
p4.45; F(1, 118)
p6.20, ). A separate contrast was conducted top!.05
explore the difference between the mismatch and the control
conditions. As hypothesized, there is no significant differ-
ence between the mismatch and the control conditions for
the stated purchase intentions (M
mismatch
p4.70, M
control
p
4.45; F(1, 118) p.37, ).p1.2
Posttest. A brief posttest was conducted to identify to
what extent the stimuli used in the study facilitated mental
simulation. Measures for mental simulation were adapted
from prior research on imagery (Bone and Ellen 1992).
Eighty-eight participants from an online survey panel com-
pleted the posttest. Each participant was randomly assigned
into one of the three conditions (ultimately match, mismatch,
control) used in the main study. Participants were given
instructions to evaluate the item depicted to them as part of
a study for a restaurant. After viewing the picture, partici-
pants were asked to rate the image on several dimensions
related to the mental simulation of eating the yogurt. Spe-
cifically, participants were asked to rate the extent to which
images of eating the yogurt came to mind (1 pnot at all;
9pto a great extent), the number of images that came to
mind (1 pfew or no images; 9 plots of images), and to
what extent they could imagine eating the yogurt (1 pnot
at all; 9 pto a great extent). The mean of these three items
was used to form an “embodied mental simulation scale”
( ). An ANOVA conducted with orientation as theap.91
independent variable and the embodied mental simulation
scale as the dependent variable revealed a significant dif-
ference across the cells (F(2, 85) p3.42, ). As pre-p!.05
dicted, the match condition led to greater embodied mental
simulation than the mismatch condition (M
match
p6.62,
M
mismatch
p5.43; F(1, 85) p4.93, ). Similarly, thep!.05
match condition led to greater embodied mental simulation
than the control condition (M
match
p6.62, M
mismatch
p5.34;
F(1, 85) p5.57, ). There was no difference in em-p!.05
bodied mental simulation between the mismatch and the
control conditions ( ).p1.5
Study 1b: Hamburger
Study 1b was designed to replicate the findings from study
1a within a different product category. The stimuli featured
a hamburger with a right hand, left hand, or no hand holding
it (see fig. A2 in the appendix).
Method and Results. Ninety-five undergraduate students
participated in the study in exchange for course credit. The
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THE VISUAL DEPICTION EFFECT 993
procedure and measures were identical to those employed
in study 1a. As in study 1a, the initial orientation indepen-
dent variable was recoded as a match, mismatch, or control
condition (depending on handedness). A one-way ANOVA
with orientation as the independent variable and purchase
intentions as the dependent variable revealed a significant
difference between the means (F(2, 92) p5.20, ).p!.01
Planned contrasts show that the match condition led to sig-
nificantly higher purchase intentions than the mismatch con-
dition (M
match
p4.63, M
mismatch
p3.06; F(1, 92) p9.00,
), replicating the findings from study 1a and provid-p!.01
ing additional support for hypothesis 1a.
The match condition led to significantly higher purchase
intentions than the control condition (M
match
p4.63, M
control
p3.30; F(1, 92) p6.55, ), and there was no sig-p!.05
nificant difference between the mismatch and the control
conditions (M
mismatch
p3.06, M
control
p3.30; F(1, 92) p
.22, ).p1.2
Posttest. This posttest was similar to that in study 1a.
Fifty-nine participants from an online panel were randomly
assigned to each condition from the primary study and eval-
uated the picture of the hamburger on the extent to which
images of eating the hamburger came to mind (1 pnot at
all; 9 pto a great extent), the number of images of eating
the hamburger that came to mind (1 pfew or no images;
9plots of images), and the extent to which they could
imagine eating the hamburger (1 pnot at all; 9 pto a
great extent; ). An ANOVA conducted on the em-
ap.94
bodied mental simulation scale revealed a significant dif-
ference across cells (F(2, 56) p3.41, ). Planned
p!.05
contrasts revealed that more participants in the match con-
dition reported greater mental simulation than those in the
mismatch condition (M
match
p7.00, M
mismatch
p5.67; F(1,
56) p3.88, ). Similarly, the match condition led to
pp.05
greater mental simulation than the control condition (M
match
p
7.00, M
mismatch
p5.32; F(1, 56) p6.15, ). There was
p!.05
no difference in mental simulation between the mismatch
and the control conditions ( ).
p1.5
Discussion. The results from studies 1a and 1b are in-
dicative of a mental simulation account. Visual depictions
that facilitate more mental simulation lead to higher pur-
chase intentions than those that facilitate less mental sim-
ulation. The inclusion of control conditions and posttests
provided further support for this proposed process—remov-
ing the instrument to facilitate mental simulation (spoon in
study 1a and hand in study 1b) had similar consequences
on both purchase intentions and embodied mental simulation
as orienting the product toward the participant’s nondomi-
nant hand. Understanding this effect of the instrument to
facilitate mental simulation is key, as it helps explain the
process for the effect and moves the findings beyond the
effect of orientation. It is not “orientation” per se that results
in our effects but whether a particular visual depiction
(which can be a particular orientation) facilitates mental
simulation.
STUDY 2: VISUAL PRODUCT DEPICTION
AND SIMULATION BLOCKING (CAKE)
Overview
With study 2, we test hypothesis 3 that impeding mental
simulation by occupying perceptual resources will limit the
impact of the visual depiction effect on purchase intentions.
Support for hypothesis 3 will further back our mental sim-
ulation account for the visual depiction effect. Since prior
literature has shown that cognition and perception use sim-
ilar resources (Kosslyn et al. 2001; Oberman et al. 2007;
Simmons et al. 2005; Unnava et al. 1996; Zatorre et al.
1996), occupying perceptual resources that correspond to
those used in mental simulation should attenuate the effects
of visual product depiction on purchase intentions (hypoth-
esis 3). As our operationalization of mental simulation in-
volves motor activity with the hands, occupying partici-
pants’ hands should attenuate the effects of visual product
depiction on purchase intentions.
Method
For this study, we took a food item (cake) and created
an advertisement with a fork on either the left or the right
side of the plate. The advertisement contained a short head-
line “Serving Happiness” and an accompanying logo (see
fig. A3 in the appendix).
The key manipulation in this experiment was to block
mental simulation by engaging participants’ perceptual re-
sources or, more specifically, engaging their hands. Impor-
tantly, we needed to engage these perceptual resources with-
out participants guessing the hypotheses or becoming overly
inquisitive while participating in the study. We selected a
physical object for participants to hold in their hand while
viewing the advertisement. This item was a spring-loaded
clamp used to hold objects together. The clamp was small
enough to fit in a participant’s hand and did not require
excessive strength to open. We selected this object to ensure
that participants would be actively engaged in a motor re-
sponse while viewing the advertisement.
We employ four conditions in which participants’ physical
resources are active, which we propose will differentially
affect the ability to mentally simulate interaction with the
depicted product. In the control condition, participants were
not required to hold anything in their hands, which simply
replicates the procedure from our prior studies. The three
remaining conditions require participants to hold a clamp
in either their nondominant hand or their dominant hand or
to hold a clamp in both hands.
Predictions
Our results to this point suggest that without occupying
physical resources, participants simulate with their dominant
hand. Thus, a clamp in the nondominant hand should not
change the results much, and we predict a replication of the
basic visual depiction effects, such that the match condition
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994 JOURNAL OF CONSUMER RESEARCH
should lead to higher purchase intentions than the mismatch
condition.
However, when participants hold the clamp in their dom-
inant hand, the ability to simulate with one’s dominant hand
is blocked. Thus, we should expect an attenuation of the
basic visual depiction effect of orientation on purchase in-
tentions. Indeed, it is possible that holding the clamp in
one’s dominant hand increases simulation with the nondom-
inant hand. Therefore, the mismatch condition in which the
fork is orientated toward the participant’s nondominant hand
may become a temporary match condition and drive a re-
versal of the basic visual depiction effect.
Finally, when participants are holding a clamp in both
hands, we predict that the ability to mentally simulate in-
teraction with either hand is blocked, leading to an atten-
uation of the difference between match and mismatch con-
ditions.
Three-hundred and twenty-one undergraduate students
participated in the study in exchange for course credit. The
design of study 3 was a 2 (orientation: match, mismatch)
#4 (simulation block: none, dominant hand, nondominant
hand, both hands) between-subjects design. The study was
described as examining physical endurance, so as to not
unduly surprise participants with our manipulation of hold-
ing the clamp. Participants were seated in front of a com-
puter with at least one clamp placed on the left side of the
computer. The initial screen presented to participants on the
computer instructed them that they would be participating
in an experiment exploring the impact of distraction on phys-
ical endurance. In all conditions, participants were instructed
that they would be viewing a series of advertisements that
would advance on their own after 5 seconds. They were to
view the advertisements and then answer questions about
them, as well as about the physical endurance task.
Per the condition that the participants were in, they were
told to pick up the clamp with either their dominant hand
or their nondominant hand, pick up one clamp in each hand,
or place their hands flat on the desk (no simulation block).
To coincide with the physical endurance cover story, par-
ticipants were additionally instructed to squeeze the clamp
such that 1 inch was visible between the tips of the clamps.
This action required a modest exertion of effort. Participants
viewed four advertisements, which advanced on their own.
The target advertisement always came third in the sequence
(the other three advertisements were immaterial). After the
advertisements, participants were instructed to place the
clamps back in their original location and proceed to answer
the questions about the advertisements. Participants first an-
swered questions regarding the cake advertised and next
answered several questions about themselves, including
demographics and individual difference scales. Upon com-
pletion of the target questionnaire, participants in the no-
simulation-block condition were asked to pick up the clamp
and squeeze it until 1 inch was between the tips. Next, all
participants answered questions about physical endurance
and the difficulty of opening the clamps.
Measures
As in the prior studies, participants first rated the likeli-
hood of purchasing the advertised cake (1 pnot at all likely;
9pvery likely). In order to ensure that our simulation
block manipulations did not alter participants’ affective state
in any systematic manner, we also administered the 20-item
Positive Affect Negative Affect Scale (PANAS; Watson,
Clark, and Tellegen 1988). After completing the scale, par-
ticipants also reported their handedness and gender. In order
for us to maintain the cover story, all participants also an-
swered questions regarding how difficult it was to open the
clamps and how tired their hands felt.
Results
We first examined any potential effects of the tasks on af-
fective measures. Separate 2 #4 ANOVAs with the positive
and negative dimensions of PANAS as dependent variables
revealed neither significant main effects nor any significant
interactions between orientation and simulation-blocking
conditions.
Of the 321 participants, 34 (11%) were left-handed. As
in studies 1a and 1b, handedness and (fork) orientation to-
gether determined whether participants were in a match or
mismatch condition. Our key hypothesis is with regard to
the interaction between orientation and simulation blocking
on purchase intentions. We initially conducted a 2 #4
ANOVA, with orientation and simulation blocking as the
independent variables and purchase intentions as the de-
pendent variable. Neither the main effect of orientation nor
the main effect of simulation blocking was significant. Im-
portantly, the interaction between the two factors was sig-
nificant (F(3, 313) p4.73, ). Figure 2 graphicallyp!.05
presents the means. Planned follow-up contrasts reveal the
predicted pattern of results.
An initial simple effects test within the control condition
shows a replication of our prior results, such that a match
between orientation and handedness led to significantly
higher purchase intentions than a mismatch (M
match
p4.55,
M
mismatch
p3.37; F(1, 313) p4.88, ). Within thep!.05
nondominant simulation-blocking condition, as predicted,
the match condition led to significantly higher purchase in-
tentions than the mismatch condition, replicating our prior
results (M
match
p4.43, M
mismatch
p3.62; F(1, 313) p4.16,
). This result suggests that simply holding the clampp!.05
in one’s hand does not block overall mental simulation of
motor activity. It may block simulation of the motor activity
where the physical resources are occupied (e.g., the non-
dominant hand), which is explored further in our other
blocking condition, as described below.
We find a complete reversal of the basic visual depiction
effect in the dominant hand simulation block condition when
compared with the no-simulation-block and the nondomi-
nant hand conditions. Specifically, we find that purchase
intentions for the cake are significantly higher in the mis-
match condition than in the match condition (M
match
p3.85,
M
mismatch
p4.83; F(1, 313) p5.62, ). These results,p!.05
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THE VISUAL DEPICTION EFFECT 995
FIGURE 2
MEAN PURCHASE INTENTIONS BY CONDITION—STUDY 2
N
OTE
.— Images are for a right-handed participant. Color version available as an online enhancement.
although not entirely unexpected, are surprising given their
magnitude. The results suggest that when the dominant hand
is physically engaged, participants are simulating with their
nondominant hand, as it is the hand that is free.
The final simulation block condition is where participants
hold one clamp in both hands. The results are supportive
of our prediction that there will be no significant difference
in purchase intentions between the match and the mismatch
orientation conditions (M
match
p3.97, M
mismatch
p4.17; F(1,
313) p.20, ).p1.2
Posttest
Forty participants from an online panel completed a post-
test designed to examine the differential mental simulation
elicited by the two versions of the stimuli. Each viewed the
advertisement and then rated the extent to which images of
using the fork to eat the cake came to mind (1 pnot at
all; 9 pto a great extent), the number of images of using
the fork to eat the cake that came to mind (1 pfew or no
images; 9 plots of images), and the extent to which they
could imagine using the fork to eat the cake (1 pnot at
all; 9 pto a great extent; ). As predicted, the matchap.94
condition led to greater embodied mental simulation than
the mismatch condition (M
match
p5.84, M
mismatch
p4.22;
F(1, 38) p5.29, ).p!.05
Discussion
The results from study 2 are largely supportive of our
hypotheses 1a and 3. We find support for our process ex-
planation of mental simulation driving the effect of visual
product depiction on purchase intention. As perceptual re-
sources are occupied through a physical task, the resources
used to mentally simulate the interaction are madeless avail-
able, affecting the visual depiction effect obtained in earlier
studies. Specifically, when participants have their dominant
hand available, the corresponding visual product depiction
leads to higher purchase intentions; however, when the dom-
inant hand is occupied, the effects are reversed. Additionally,
when perceptual resources are occupied for both hands, we
see an attenuation of the effects of visual product depiction
on purchase intentions. Study 2 provides unique behavioral
support for the mental simulation-perception link. In sum,
perceptual activity has consequences on mental simulation
and ultimately on behavioral intentions.
Study 2 demonstrates the grounded nature of mental sim-
ulation, such that perception and cognition are not inde-
pendent. This connection is shown to have consequences on
behavioral intentions. So far, we have focused on positively
valenced stimuli. In the next study, we focus on whether
facilitation of mental simulation for negatively valenced
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996 JOURNAL OF CONSUMER RESEARCH
stimuli will reduce purchase intention (i.e., we test hypoth-
esis 1b).
STUDY 3: STIMULI VALENCE (SOUP)
Overview
The results of the prior three studies are supportive of a
mental simulation process. However, one potential alter-
native explanation to this point would be that the visual
product depiction is simply easier to process or more fluent.
Although the findings from study 2, in which the connection
between perceptual activity and mental simulation is shown,
do much to rule out this perceptual fluency account, study
3 is designed to disentangle the two models further and
explicate the process underlying the results obtained thus
far. We do this by introducing stimulus valence. Prior re-
search has shown perceptual fluency to have a purely pos-
itive effect on a stimulus (Reber et al. 1998), whereas mental
simulation may magnify the valence of the stimulus, making
a positive stimulus more positive and a negative stimulus
more negative (Kisielius and Sternthal 1984, 1986). We cre-
ated two sets of visual stimuli, one positively valenced and
one negatively valenced, with the description of the stimulus
making it either positive or negative.
Pretest
The pretest was conducted to ensure that proper manip-
ulations of valence were selected. Sixty-six participants from
the same population as the main study were administered
the pretest. Participants were told that they would be rating
food items on several dimensions. These food items were
four different soups (cottage cheese and tomato soup, cot-
tage cheese and ketchup soup, asiago cheese and tomato
soup, and cheddar cheese and tomato soup). Attitudes to-
ward the soups were rated on 9-point scales (1 pstrongly
dislike; 9 pstrongly like). Of the four soups, attitudes were
lowest for cottage cheese and ketchup soup (Mp1.89),
next lowest for cottage cheese and tomato soup (Mp3.50),
and identical for asiago cheese and tomato soup and cheddar
cheese and tomato soup (Mp5.70). We chose asiago cheese
and tomato soup as the positively valenced stimulus. Al-
though cottage cheese and ketchup soup had the lowest
overall ratings, we chose cottage cheese and tomato soup
for the negatively valenced stimulus to reduce the possibility
of floor effects (i.e., the stimulus being too negative). The
two sets of stimuli were significantly different on attitudes
(F(1, 65) p51.45, ).p!.01
Method
The stimuli for study 3 were created by taking an image
of a bowl of tomato soup with a spoon on one side and
flipping it over a vertical axis to create a mirror image of
the soup. Thus, as in study 1a, the spoon was on either the
right or the left side of the bowl. To manipulate the valence
of the soup, we included a verbal headline for the image,
as well as a short description of the soup. The only difference
within the verbal copy was the name of the cheese, with
cottage cheese for the negatively valenced stimulus and asi-
ago cheese for the positively valenced stimulus. Versions of
the stimuli are contained within the appendix (see fig. A4).
The design for study 3 is thus a 2 (orientation: match, mis-
match) #2 (valence: positive, negative) between-subjects
factorial design.
One hundred and fifty-eight participants were recruited
to complete the study from an online survey panel. Partic-
ipants were told that they would be evaluating a proposed
food item from a restaurant menu. They were instructed to
view the image for as long as they wished before proceeding
to answer questions about the soup. Participants next rated
their likelihood of purchasing the soup in a manner identical
to the prior studies. Finally, participants indicated theirhand-
edness and were asked to recall which type of soup they
had viewed. Upon completion of the experiment, partici-
pants were asked to guess its purpose. No participant showed
insight into the experimental hypotheses or manipulations.
Results
Of the 158 participants, 19 (12%) were left-handed. The
data were recoded as in the prior studies to represent a match
or mismatch between the participant’s handedness and ori-
entation of the spoon.
An ANOVA was conducted with orientation and valence
as the independent variables and purchase intentions as the
dependent variable. A representation of the means is shown
in figure 3. The main effect of orientation is not significant
( ). However, as expected, we do get a main effect ofp1.5
valence (F(1, 154) p38.22, ). An examination ofp!.001
the means shows purchase intentions to be higher for the
positively valenced soup than the negatively valenced soup
(M
positive
p5.91, M
negative
p3.52).
Of greater importance, we also get a significant interaction
between orientation and valence on purchase intentions (F(1,
154) p8.84, ). Planned follow-up contrasts revealp!.005
that within the positively valenced condition, the match con-
dition leads to significantly higher purchase intentions than
the mismatch condition (M
match
p6.59, M
mismatch
p5.33;
F(1, 154) p4.93, ). These results represent a rep-p!.05
lication from the findings of the prior studies, whereby visual
stimuli facilitating more (vs. less) mental simulation lead to
higher purchase intentions, supporting hypothesis 1a. Per
hypothesis 1b, when the stimuli are negatively valenced, we
should see a reversal of this effect. Indeed, supportive of
hypothesis 1b, we find that within the negatively valenced
condition, the match condition leads to significantly lower
purchase intentions than the mismatch condition (M
match
p
3.02, M
mismatch
p4.08; F(1, 154) p3.92, ).pp.05
Posttest
Although our results are supportive of a mental simulation
account, we lack empirical evidence that participants indeed
simulate more in a match (vs. mismatch) condition, regard-
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THE VISUAL DEPICTION EFFECT 997
FIGURE 3
MEAN PURCHASE INTENTIONS BY CONDITION—STUDY 3
N
OTE
.— Images are for a right-handed participant. Color version
available as an online enhancement.
less of valence. We conducted a posttest to make sure that
the valence of the stimuli did not affect mental simulation
across conditions. Thus, this posttest included an identical
design as the actual study using the same stimuli. Specifi-
cally, we employed a 2 (orientation: match, mismatch) #
2 (valence: positive, negative) between-subjects design.
Ninety-five participants from an online panel were randomly
assigned to view one of four stimuli and then rated the extent
to which they could mentally simulate the experience of
eating the soup. We again used a three-item scale to measure
embodied mental simulation. Participants rated the extent
to which images of eating the soup came to mind (1 pnot
at all; 9 pto a great extent), the number of images of eating
the soup that came to mind while viewing the soup (1 p
few or no images; 9 plots of images), and to what extent
they could imagine eating the soup (1 pnot at all; 9 pto
a great extent; ).ap.93
We conducted an ANOVA with orientation and valence
as the independent variables and mental simulation as the
dependent variable. Resulting from the analysis is only a
main effect of orientation, with the match condition leading
to significantly greater mental simulation than the mismatch
condition (M
match
p6.83, M
mismatch
p5.28; F(1, 91) p
12.84, ). Neither the main effect of valence nor thep!.005
interaction of orientation and valence is significant. Follow-
up contrasts reveal that when the soup was positively va-
lenced, the match condition led to significantly greater men-
tal simulation than the mismatch condition (M
match
p7.13,
M
mismatch
p5.31; F(1, 91) p9.17, ). Similarly,p!.005
when the soup was negatively valenced, the match condition
led to significantly greater mental simulation than the mis-
match condition (M
match
p6.48, M
mismatch
p5.25; F(1, 91)
p4.16, ). While within the match condition thep!.05
mean for mental simulation is directionally higher for pos-
itive versus negative valence, this difference is not signifi-
cant (M
positive
p7.13, M
negative
p6.48; F(1, 91) p1.05,
).p1.2
Discussion
The findings of study 3 establish boundary conditions to
the prior results but, more importantly, help to explicate the
process underlying our results. Specifically, the results of
study 3 provide further support for our mental simulation
account as opposed to purely a fluency account, as fluency
would predict an increase in purchase intentions for both
the positive and the negative stimuli given a match between
orientation and handedness. As simulation of a negative
experience is facilitated by visual product depictions, the
overall effect is a decrease in purchase intentions with in-
creased mental simulation. While, taken as a whole, the prior
studies exhibit strong support for visual depiction facilitating
mental simulation, in study 4 we test directly for thisprocess
explanation.
STUDY 4: THE PROCESS OF MENTAL
SIMULATION (MUG)
Overview and Method
We test the hypothesized process that visual product de-
piction affects purchase intentions by facilitating embodied
mental simulation (as depicted in fig. 1). Unlike the previous
studies in which mental simulation was measured in a post-
test (with a different set of participants), in this study, we
measure mental simulation with the same participants who
provide their purchase intention. In addition, we use a multi-
item purchase intentions scale.
The stimuli are images of stainless steel mugs with han-
dles. The image of the mug was flipped over a vertical axis
to create two versions of the stimulus. In addition to the
mug, the stimuli included a logo for a fictitious brand (Terra),
as well as a brief amount of verbal copy (“smart. design.
life. 100% Quality Materials”; see fig. A5 in the appendix).
Measures
Purchase Intentions Scale. Apart from the purchase in-
tention measure used throughout our studies (“How likely
would you be to purchase this mug?”; 1 pnot at all likely;
9pvery likely), we used two other measures taken from
prior literature (Baker and Churchill 1977; Bone and Ellen
1992). Specifically, we asked participants to respond to the
following items: “The next time I purchase a mug, I will
buy the advertised mug” (1 pstrongly disagree; 9 p
strongly agree); “How likely would you be to actively seek
out this mug in a store to purchase it?” (1 pnot at all
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998 JOURNAL OF CONSUMER RESEARCH
likely; 9 pvery likely). These three items were combined
to form a scale measuring purchase intentions ( ).ap.88
Attitude toward the Product. As an additional evaluative
measure for the product, we capture overall attitudes toward
the mug using three items (1 pbad/dislike/unpleasant; 9 p
good/like/pleasant; ; Mitchell and Olson 1981). Inap.93
our prior studies, we have focused on purchase intentions
alone as extant literature has exhibited a strong connection
between imagined behavior and behavioral intentions (An-
derson 1983; Gregory et al. 1982; Schlosser 2003). Also,
as stated earlier, imagined behavior can influence intentions
without directly affecting attitudes (Schlosser 2003). As
such, we do not necessarily expect differences in attitudes
toward the product between conditions, but we measure it
nonetheless in this study.
Embodied Mental Simulation. We used the same three
measures as those we used in the preceding posttests to
measure mental simulation: “As you viewed the ad, to what
extent did images of using the mug come to mind (for ex-
ample, picking it up, holding it in your hand, etc)?” (1 p
not at all; 9 pto a great extent); “While viewing the ad,
I experienced:” (1 pfew or no images of using the mug;
9pa lot of images of using the mug); “To what extent
while viewing the ad could you imagine using the mug?”
(1 pnot at all; 9 pto a great extent). We combined these
measures to form a scale for mental simulation ( ).ap.86
Ease of Mental Simulation. While we have hypothesized
that the “amount” of mental simulation will be affected by
visual depiction, we additionally measure “ease of mental
simulation” and test whether ease of mental simulation could
also drive our results. We employed three additional mea-
sures to capture the ease of simulating using the mug: how
difficult or easy the images of using the mug were to create
(1 pextremely difficult; 9 pextremely easy), how quickly
they formed these images (1 pnot at all quickly; 9 pvery
quickly), and the extent to which they agreed with the state-
ment “I had no difficulty imagining using the mug in my
mind” (1 pstrongly disagree; 9 pstrongly agree). These
three measures were combined to form an ease of simulation
scale ( ).ap.83
Design and Procedure
Study 4 uses a one-factor design. Seventy-eight partici-
pants from an online panel completed the study in exchange
for monetary compensation. The procedure for study 4
closely followed that employed in the prior studies. Partic-
ipants were told the purpose of the study was to evaluate a
potential new product from a household item product line.
Participants were randomly assigned to view the mug in one
of two orientations. They were told to view the advertise-
ment for as long as they wished before proceeding to the
questionnaire, which contained our measures for purchase
intentions, attitudes toward the mug, amount of mental sim-
ulation generated, and the ease of generating mental sim-
ulation. As in our prior studies, we also captured handedness.
Results
Before analysis, we recoded the initial orientation of the
product to represent a match or mismatch with the partic-
ipant’s dominant hand (9% left-handed). An ANOVA with
orientation as the independent variable and our purchase
intentions scale as the dependent variable revealed signifi-
cantly higher purchase intentions in the match versus mis-
match conditions (M
match
p4.79, M
mismatch
p3.44; F(1, 76)
p14.47, ). We next examined the impact of ori-p!.001
entation on attitudes toward the mug and found no signif-
icant difference between the match and the mismatch con-
ditions (M
match
p6.21, M
mismatch
p5.85; F(1, 76) p1.16,
). Finally, we examined the impact of orientation onp1.2
the amount and ease of mental simulation. Although direc-
tionally the mismatch condition led to greater ease of mental
simulation, these differences were only marginally signifi-
cant (M
match
p6.26, M
mismatch
p5.53; F(1, 76) p3.20,
). However, as predicted, participants in the matchpp.08
condition did report greater mental simulation than those in
the mismatch condition (M
match
p4.97, M
mismatch
p4.04;
F(1, 76) p4.87, ).p!.05
We next examine whether the amount of mental simu-
lation mediates the impact of visual depiction on purchase
intentions. Analyses conducted through Preacher and Hayes’s
(2008) macro with bootstrapped samples (5,000) indicate
complementary mediation (Zhao, Lynch, and Chen 2010),
supporting hypothesis 2. Controlling for orientation, mental
simulation had a significant and positive effect on purchase
intentions ( , t(76) p3.38, ). The total effectbp.30 p!.005
of orientation on purchase intentions was also significant
(,t(76) p3.80, ), as reported earlier. Thebp1.34 p!.001
indirect path of the effects of orientation on purchase in-
tentions through mental simulation was also significant, with
the 95% confidence interval excluding zero (.0349–.7191).
GENERAL DISCUSSION
Recent models of cognition suggest a considerable amount
of overlap between perceptual and imagined activity, as it
relates to the senses (Barsalou 1999, 2008; Gibbs 2006;
Wilson 2002). A primary objective of this article is toextend
this research by examining the interplay between cognition
and perception as it relates to visual product depiction. We
propose and show that the way a product is visually depicted
can facilitate mental simulation, with significant behavioral
consequences. Specifically, we show that even the subtle
manipulation of orienting an object toward a participant’s
dominant hand leads to heightened purchase intentions. We
claim that this effect is due to the facilitation of mental
simulation of interacting with the object.
Four experiments support our claim that visual product
depictions can facilitate mental simulation, with conse-
quences on consumers’ purchase intention. Studies 1a and
1b demonstrate the basic visual depiction effect across two
different categories—simply altering the direction of a
spoon or hand affects purchase intentions. As the control
condition is not significantly different from the mismatch
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THE VISUAL DEPICTION EFFECT 999
condition, the results from studies 1a and 1b show that a
match between orientation of the product and the individ-
ual’s dominant hand increases purchase intentions (as op-
posed to a mismatch condition decreasing purchase inten-
tions).
The results from study 2 explicate the process by exhib-
iting the connection between impeding perceptual activity
and mental simulation. Specifically, we had four conditions
in which perceptual resources were differentially engaged,
including conditions in which participants held a clamp in
their dominant hand, nondominant hand, or both hands or
did not hold a clamp. When the clamp was held in the
participant’s nondominant hand, a match between visual
product depiction and handedness led to higher purchase
intentions than a mismatch. Intriguingly, when the clamp
was held in the participant’s dominant hand, we obtain the
reverse effects, such that a mismatch between visual product
depiction and handedness led to significantly higher pur-
chase intentions than a match. Finally, we anticipated and
found that occupying the perceptual resources of both hands
attenuated the overall impact of visual product depiction on
purchase intentions. These results contribute to the behav-
ioral literature exploring the connection between cognition
and sensory perception.
Should mental simulation underlie our results, a negative
experience should become more aversive. Study 3 results
are consistent with this logic. Study 3 also provides addi-
tional evidence that fluency does not fully explain our re-
sults. If fluency underlies our results, a negative experience
should become more positive, as perceptual fluency has a
hedonically positive effect, irrespective of stimuli valence.
Finally, in study 4 we provide evidence for the underlying
process involved and receive support for our mental sim-
ulation account. Visual depictions indeed facilitate mental
simulation. This simulated experience with the stimulus ul-
timately leads to increased purchase intentions. This process
is supported through mediation and creates intriguing ave-
nues for future research on the construct of embodied mental
simulation.
Managerial implications of this research follow directly
from our results. In several of the studies, we have used
advertisements as the primary stimuli. Our results suggest
that advertisers can increase purchase intentions by facili-
tating mental simulation through their visual depictions of
the product. One way to do this is by simply orienting the
product (e.g., a cup with a handle) toward the right. While
this may alienate a small percentage of left-handed individ-
uals, the impact on right-handed individuals should over-
whelm this effect.
These results are also informative for shelf display in retail
environments. For example, a very slight change in display
of the mugs at the front of a coffee shop may have a sig-
nificant impact on purchases, as consumers simulate grasp-
ing them to a greater extent. Including an instrument that
facilitates mental simulation should have similar conse-
quences on purchase intentions as orienting the visual de-
piction. As shown in studies 1a and 1b, the lack of an
instrument that facilitates mental simulation (e.g., spoon)
reduces the impact of the visual depiction on purchase in-
tentions. Examples of other instruments to facilitate mental
simulation include handles on products like bottles, mugs,
and containers, or even hands interacting with the product.
These consequences of visual depiction affect not just ad-
vertising but product packaging as well, and designers
should focus on incorporating these instruments of simu-
lation in the outer package design. Replications of our effects
with actual purchase data in a retail environment would
serve to increase the generalizability of our findings, al-
though the current set of studies is directly applicable to
online shopping.
Our manipulations of visual depiction to facilitate mental
simulation all involved the concept of handedness and motor
simulation. The fact that this operationalization is limited
to instances in which the product can interact with one’s
hands limits the application of this research. We chose this
manipulation due to prior literature showing the effects of
visual depiction on motor simulation (Tucker and Ellis1998,
2001). Intriguingly, however, this is most assuredly not the
only way of facilitating mental simulation. Indeed, many
other visual depictions can encourage mental simulation. For
example, positioning a pair of warm, fuzzy slippers with the
openings toward (vs. away from) the consumer should fa-
cilitate mental simulation of interacting with the slippers
with one’s feet. Similarly, having the bottle top off of a
soda, opening the driver’s door in a car advertisement, or
folding down the sheets on the side of a bed positioned
toward the consumer are all very subtle ways of facilitating
consumer mental simulation. Importantly, these other ma-
nipulations would move beyond handedness of the individ-
ual and be more broadly applicable in practice.
There are several specific extensions of the current re-
search that would provide valuable insight. Our findings on
valence and mental simulation show the negative conse-
quences of imagining certain actions. However, prior liter-
ature has also shown an increase in actual behavior of a
seemingly negative experience (donating blood) when imag-
ined (Anderson 1983). Further delineation of the boundaries
of when valence reduces intentions is needed. Additionally,
future research should examine the connection between per-
ception and cognition as it relates to mental simulation. We
chose to impede mental simulation of motor activity by
having participants hold a clamp in their hand; however, the
ability to mentally simulate consumption of food may have
also been inhibited by having participants eat something
while viewing the advertisement (e.g., chewing gum). Ac-
tual sensory experiences in general may alter both the ability
to mentally simulate as well as the type of mental simulation
generated. While in this article we focus on the amount of
mental simulation that the visual depiction affords, a re-
maining question is the type of mental simulation that con-
sumers engage in. Our manipulations were designed to elicit
motor simulation, but additional sensory experiences could
also be simulated through visual depiction, such as imag-
ining olfaction, audition, taste, and even haptic experiences.
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1000 JOURNAL OF CONSUMER RESEARCH
Furthermore, while in our studies, we measure mental sim-
ulation as a function of visual depiction, we have not mea-
sured mental simulation in the blocking conditions of study
2 (but have inferred it from purchase intention)—future re-
search should also test directly the extent of mental simu-
lation that prevails in these conditions.
While significant strides have been made in explicating
the consequences of deliberate imagery on consumer be-
havior (for a review, see Petrova and Cialdini 2008), the
more automatic form of mental simulation warrants further
attention. We propose that the operative process in our stud-
ies is automatic mental simulation. Contrasting this form of
mental simulation with more deliberate forms of imagery
would provide a greater understanding of when and how
consumers imagine product interaction and what the ultimate
consequences from these images are.
Another theoretical avenue to pursue is the interplay be-
tween simulated experience and direct product experience.
Prior literature within sensory experience and consumer psy-
chology has shown that sensory experiences can be altered
through cognitions generated both before (Allison and Uhl
1964; Elder and Krishna 2010; Hoegg and Alba 2007; Lee,
Frederick, and Ariely 2006; Levin and Gaeth 1988) and after
(Braun 1999) exposure to the stimuli. However, the prior
literature has explored this connection at a deliberate level,
with the information coming from external sources. Within
the current context, mental simulations occur due to more
automatic processes stemming from an individual’s own
prior experience. Future research could determine to what
extent mental simulations are connected to individual direct
product experiences or to an aggregation of prior experi-
ences. When are specific experiences more likely to be sim-
ulated? Do these simulations then alter the actual perceptual
experience in ways similar to externally generated cogni-
tions? The close connection between actual and simulated
product experience provides rich avenues for future re-
search. Much research remains to be done on mental sim-
ulation within the realm of consumer behavior.
APPENDIX
FIGURE A1
STIMULI USED IN STUDY 1A
N
OTE
.—Color version available as an online enhancement.
FIGURE A2
STIMULI USED IN STUDY 1B
N
OTE
.—Color version available as an online enhancement.
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FIGURE A3
STIMULI USED IN STUDY 2
N
OTE
.—Color version available as an online enhancement.
FIGURE A4
STIMULI USED IN STUDY 3
N
OTE
.—Color version available as an online enhancement.
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1002 JOURNAL OF CONSUMER RESEARCH
FIGURE A5
STIMULI USED IN STUDY 4
N
OTE
.—Color version available as an online enhancement.
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The close integration between visual and motor processes suggests that some visuomotor transformations may proceed automatically and to an extent that permits observable effects on subsequent actions. A series of experiments investigated the effects of visual objects on motor responses during a categorisation task. In Experiment 1 participants responded according to an object's natural or manufactured category. The responses consisted in uni-manual precision or power grasps that could be compatible or incompatible with the viewed object. The data indicate that object grasp compatibility significantly affected participant response times and that this did not depend upon the object being viewed within the reaching space. The time course of this effect was investigated in Experiments 2-4b by using a go-nogo paradigm with responses cued by tones and go-nogo trials cued by object category. The compatibility effect was not present under advance response cueing and rapidly diminished following object extinction. A final experiment established that the compatibility effect did not depend on a within-hand response choice, but was at least as great with bi-manual responses where a full power grasp could be used. Distributional analyses suggest that the effect is not subject to rapid decay but increases linearly with RT whilst the object remains visible. The data are consistent with the view that components of the actions an object affords are integral to its representation.
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