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# Within a hair's breadth of buying the product: The impact of tangible and intangible bodily cues of contamination: The role of disgust and mental imagery

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In most retail environments, customers can handle products. However, the downside of this freedom to touch products is product contamination. The objectives of this paper are threefold: (a) to examine the effects of contamination cues (tangible vs. intangible) on consumer responses; (b) to show the mediating role of contamination, disgust, and mental imagery; and (c) to assess the robustness of the results on three product categories for different levels of contact intimacy. Three experimental laboratory studies on different product categories (a book [n = 95], T‐shirt [n = 118], and apple [n = 102]) showed that tangible contamination cues decreased product evaluation and purchase intentions more than intangible contamination cues did. Moreover, contamination, disgust, and mental imagery mediated the effects of contamination cues on product evaluation and purchase intention. The findings provide theoretical and practical insights to help researchers and retailers understand the effect of tangible contamination cues on consumer responses.
Tangible and intangible bodily cues of contamination
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Within A Hair’s Breadth of Buying the Product: The Impact of Tangible and Intangible
Bodily Cues of Contamination: The Role of Disgust and Mental Imagery
Abstract
In most retail environments, customers can handle products. However, the downside of this
freedom to touch products is product contamination. The objectives of this paper are threefold:
1) to examine the effects of contamination cues (tangible vs. intangible) on consumer responses;
2) to show the mediating role of contamination, disgust and mental imagery; and 3) to assess the
robustness of the results on three product categories for different levels of contact intimacy.
Three experimental laboratory studies on different product categories (a book (n=95), t-shirt
(n=118), and apple (n=102)) showed that tangible contamination cues decreased product
evaluation and purchase intentions more than intangible contamination cues did. Moreover,
contamination, disgust and mental imagery mediated the effects of contamination cues on
product evaluation and purchase intention. The findings provide theoretical and practical insights
to help researchers and retailers understand the effect of tangible contamination cues on
consumer responses.
Keywords: contamination; tangible and intangible cues; disgust; mental imagery; intimacy of
contact
To cite this paper Gerard J. et Helme-Guizon A. (2018), Within a hair's breadth of buying the
product: The impact of tangible and intangible bodily cues of contamination: The role of disgust
and mental imagery, Applied Cognitive Psychology, 32(5), 537-549
Tangible and intangible bodily cues of contamination
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1. Introduction
How would you react when seeing someone touching a product in a store? What would
you think? Would you believe that the product has been contaminated by contact with someone’s
body? What would you imagine about the characteristics of the product? What consequences
would you anticipate for yourself if you purchased the product? Would your reactions be
different for food than for other goods?
This paper aims to answer these questions by focusing on perceived product
contamination in a retail setting and the consequences of perceived contamination for consumer
products (henceforth referred to as “contamination”). Previous researchers in psychology and
marketing have anchored their definition of contamination in Rachman’s (2004) work, according
to which contamination is “an intense and persisting feeling of having been polluted or infected
or endangered as a result of contact, direct or indirect, with a person/place/object that is
perceived to be soiled, impure, infectious or harmful” (p.1229). A product may be contaminated
after it comes into contact either with potentially harmful substances, such as chemicals,
pesticides, germs or bacteria, or with items, people or places that are believed to be infected
(even if they are not). In the first case, contamination would be real or effective because
pathogenic agents penetrate, spoil and deteriorate the product. The current research focuses on
the second case, in which contamination occurs independently of a pathogenic agent. It is
perceived to result from the real or imagined contact of a product with another product, a person,
or a place that is supposedly contaminated. The unclean properties of the supposed
contaminant are believed to be transferred to the “clean” object, contaminating it as well. Certain
properties are attributed to the “clean product” using past associations that result in false
cognitions about the “clean” product. This process can occur when individuals see a
Tangible and intangible bodily cues of contamination
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contaminating source touching the product. It can also occur when individuals infer contact with
residues left by a contaminant, which act as contamination cues.
In marketing, Argo, Dahl, and Morales’ seminal article on consumer contamination and
negative product evaluation in 2006 has led to several studies on contamination (e.g., Castro,
Morales, & Nowlis, 2013; Galoni & Noseworthy, 2015; Morales & Fitzsimons, 2007; White,
Lin, Dahl, & Ritchie, 2016). These studies have indicated that a contaminated product generates
lower purchase intentions. Contamination occurs when a contamination cue (a person, object,
product, place or unidentified source) comes into contact with a product. Its negative effects can
be seen on both unpackaged products (Argo, Dahl, & Morales, 2006) and packaged products
(Castro et al., 2013; Galoni & Noseworthy, 2015; Morales & Fitzsimons, 2007; White et al.,
2016), including food products (Castro et al., 2013; Galoni & Noseworthy, 2015; White et al.,
2016) and non-food products (Argo et al., 2006).
In retail settings, the issue of contamination is crucial for managers. They are torn
between allowing customers to sensorially interact with the environment by touching a product
or trying it on before purchase. Although this provides shoppers with a satisfying in-store
experience, the risk for retailers is that previously handled products are perceived as having been
contaminated by other consumers. Therefore, managers must find the right balance between
consumers’ freedom to touch in-store products and the need to limit perceptions of
contamination, which may have a detrimental effect on turnover. The issue is all the more
relevant for unpackaged goods because the product is in direct contact with the human body,
either through the hands or through different body parts when consumers try on garments. Thus
far, few recommendations have been made to minimize the negative consequences of consumers
coming into contact with unpackaged products (Argo et al., 2006).
Tangible and intangible bodily cues of contamination
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Given the scarcity of research on the contamination of unpackaged goods and its
importance for retailers (Kapitan & Bhargave, 2013), this research contributes to the literature by
testing the effects of contamination cues (specifically, tangible and intangible body cues) on
consumer products and by shedding light on the underlying mechanisms of the observed
negative effects. More precisely, the mediating role of three cognitive processes perceived
contamination, disgust and mental imagery is experimentally demonstrated. Tangible body
cues are any visible body residue, while intangible body cues are any human skin contact (hand,
chest, shoulder, etc.) with a product without perceptible residue. Contamination has been shown
to result from the “spreading of negative associations between source and target products
(Morales & Fitzsimons, 2007, p. 274), consequently influencing product evaluation.
Contamination arises from the belief that the soiled properties of a supposedly tainted entity
could be transferable to another entity when they come into contact.
Past research has identified disgust (Argo et al., 2006) as an underlying mechanism.
Disgust is a negative emotional response to something that is considered offensive, distasteful, or
unpleasant (Angyal, 1941; Rozin & Fallon, 1987). It results from the cognitive appraisal of the
stimulus, very often automatically (Lazarus, 1991), and it prepares one for action (Frijda, 1986).
Mental imagery is a familiar and commonplace feature of our mental lives. Many
complex and fractious debates have considered its nature (experience or representation).
Although the phenomenon remains controversial, past research acknowledges that mental
imagery plays a crucial role in human cognition, including information processing, memory,
problem solving, motivation, creativity, attitudes and behaviors (Thomas, 2017).
The objectives of this paper are threefold: 1) to examine the effects of tangible and
intangible body contamination cues on the consumer evaluation and purchase intention of
Tangible and intangible bodily cues of contamination
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unpackaged goods; 2) to show the mediating role of three underlying cognitive mechanisms:
contamination, disgust and mental imagery; and 3) to assess the robustness of results for three
product categories that vary in terms of contact intimacy. Three experimental laboratory studies
were conducted in which body contamination cues were manipulated, consumer responses
(product evaluation and purchase intention) were evaluated, and the underlying cognitive
mechanisms (contamination, disgust and mental imagery) were demonstrated.
This article contributes to the literature in two ways. First, it extends previous work on
unpackaged products by showing the effects of tangible and intangible body contamination cues
on product evaluation and purchase intention for three categories that vary in their level of
intimacy of contact (a book, a T-shirt and an apple). Second, it demonstrates that cognitive
processes such as contamination, disgust and mental imagery mediate the effects of body
contamination cues on consumer evaluation and purchase intention. As such, it explicitly
demonstrates the mediating role of contamination and mental imagery by measuring these
cognitive concepts, while earlier studies have merely inferred these concepts.
2. Conceptual background
2.1. Contamination cues
Nemeroff and Rozin (1994) developed the residue (or tangible trace) model, which
involves perceptible residues. In their model, the contamination cue is tangible (i.e., it can be
touched or seen by people). However, Argo et al. (2016), Morales and Fitzsimons (2007), and
Castro et al. (2013) demonstrated that contamination cues do not need to be tangible to have an
effect. Indeed, cues such as proximity of contact, time elapsed, disorganized shelves or even the
Tangible and intangible bodily cues of contamination
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nature of the product (e.g., feminine napkins) could have a detrimental effect on product
evaluation. Based on these works, seeing a person’s hair could be considered a tangible
contamination cue, while a person’s brief physical contact with the product could be considered
an intangible contamination cue. In the case of intangible cues, individuals infer contamination
from visible (deteriorated) properties of the product and/or its environment, such as creases in a
t-shirt or a torn page of a book.
In a typical sales setting, there may be many potential contamination cues. Previous
research has established that contamination occurs in situations where the product has been
touched by others (Argo et al., 2006), has come into contact with a “disgusting product
(Morales & Fitzsimons, 2007, p. 272), is presented in damaged packaging (White et al., 2016), is
located on disorganized shelves (Castro et al., 2013). These effects were observed when
participants watched someone touching a product and even when participants only saw
contamination cues such as damaged packaging (ripped labels, dented cans) or disorganized
shelves. Morales and Fitzsimons (2007) found that even when actual contact did not occur,
contamination effects persisted, making even imagined contact sufficient for contagion to be
perceived. In most of these studies, contamination did not actually occur; consumers inferred it
based on salient cues that increased contamination. Argo et al. (2006) showed that the perception
of contamination increased with proximity to the contact, time elapsed since last contact, and the
number of contact sources.
Different parts of the body are potential contaminants. However, they are not perceived
equally in terms of their power to contaminate. Indeed, everything in the human body is
perceived as disgusting in its physicality because it is composed of “a mess of gooey, oozy, slimy,
smelly things” (Miller, 1998, p. 58). Nevertheless, in terms of the outer body, not all elements
Tangible and intangible bodily cues of contamination
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have equal contaminating power (i.e., sexual organs have greater power of contamination than do
shoulders or elbows). Furthermore, the contamination power of different parts of the body
depends upon the situation and the person perceiving them. For example, a man might be
attracted to a woman’s hair as he passes her on the street, yet he might be disgusted when a hair
is found in his plate of food at a restaurant. Overall, based on Nemeroff and Rozin’s (1994)
study, tangible and intangible contamination cues may have different effects on product
evaluation and purchase intention.
2.2. Contamination cues affect contamination
With regard to a wide range of product categories, previous research in marketing has
established that contamination decreases both product evaluation and purchase intention (Argo et
al., 2006; Castro et al., 2013; Galoni & Noseworthy, 2015; Morales & Fitzsimons, 2007; White
et al., 2016). Researchers have explained these psychological effects as sympathetic magic or
magical thinking (Argo et al., 2006; Argo, Dahl, & Morales, 2008; Morales & Fitzsimons, 2007).
Laws of sympathetic magic were described by Frazer (1890), Mauss (1902) and Tylor (1871) as
the distant action of one entity on another. When two entities come into contact, the properties of
one entity are transferred to the other. Proximity between an object and a source that is said to be
contaminated is sufficient for the object to be perceived as contaminated (Fallon, Rozin, &
Pliner, 1984) and for people to derive strong beliefs. However, contamination can also occur
when there is no actual contact. After the instance of a first contact, the consequences of this
transfer persist even when the two entities are remote: “once in contact, always in contact”
(Hejmadi, Rozin, & Siegal, 2004, p. 467). The object is evaluated based on its history, even
when its past cannot be perceived by individuals. Very brief contact with a contaminated element
Tangible and intangible bodily cues of contamination
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could lead to a permanent undesirable effect. Consequently, contamination effects persist even
when the contamination source has been removed. Product evaluation declines when people
imagine that contamination has occurred (Rozin, Millman, & Nemeroff, 1986) because “they
[individuals] make unjustified inferences about the product” (White et al., 2016, p. 111). Laws of
sympathetic magic are based on a psychological effect, not a physical one.
Based on this body of literature, contamination is assumed to mediate the effects of body
contamination cues (whether tangible or intangible) on product evaluation and purchase
intention.
2.3. Contamination cues affect disgust
The first scientific examination of disgust dates to Darwin (1872) and the evolutionary
theorists after him, who assumed that disgust was an automatic response, a primal reaction
(referring to the animal nature of the human being) to something in our environment that is
intrinsically harmful. This understanding implies that when exposed to a stimulus, everyone
displays the same irrepressible behavior (moving away from it) as a matter of survival. Darwin
(1872) also concluded that a variety of objects or persons could trigger disgust and that disgust is
shared by different cultures, even though what is considered disgusting varies considerably
across cultures. The fact that sources of disgust may be specific to people and that, vice versa,
the same source may yield various emotional reactions depending on the person perceiving it
suggests that disgust is not universal but rather results from socialization (Miller, 1998). Indeed,
at a certain age, children acquire a sense of disgust for some sources that are culturally
considered gross (Fallon et al., 1984). The issue of the role of nature versus nurture in disgust has
been discussed by a few researchers (Rozin & Fallon, 1987). Following Angyal (1941) and
Tangible and intangible bodily cues of contamination
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Frazer (1890), studies have determined that disgust is typically experienced as a visceral
emotion, a feeling of revulsion and a desire to withdraw from the disgust-eliciting source (Rozin,
Haidt, & McCauley, 2000). It is a response of revulsion to something considered offensive,
distasteful, or unpleasant (Rozin & Fallon, 1987), not in terms of tastes, smells, or sights but
rather based on the cognitive appraisal of the stimulus (Lazarus, 1991) - in other words, the
knowledge of the nature of something (Rozin et al., 2000). This evaluation of a potential threat
determines the occurrence of disgust and its intensity (from low to extreme disgust).
Disgusting objects are believed to possess contaminating properties that lower the value
of other objects they come in contact with (Rozin & Fallon, 1987). In a marketing context, when
consumers experience disgust toward a contaminated product, their preference for the product
decreases (Argo et al., 2006; Galoni & Noseworthy, 2015; Morales & Fitzsimons, 2007). Miller
(1998, p. 3) argued that disgust and contamination are related because disgust is “a strong sense
of aversion to something perceived as dangerous because of its powers to contaminate, infect, or
pollute by proximity, contact, or ingestion.”
Rozin et al. (2000) examined interpersonal disgust, which refers to direct or indirect
contact with other people and is relevant in the context of product contamination. They showed
that for American students, a sweater that had been worn once by a healthy person and then
washed would be less desirable than an unworn sweater. They were averse to coming into
contact with products that had been used by others because “getting in contact with other people
opens up contact with their body products: their sweat, their saliva, their mucus, and traces of
their urine or feces” (Rozin et al., 2000, p. 643). Indeed, a product that is perceived as both
offensive and contaminating should induce disgust. When there is a cue that parts of the body
have come into contact with a product, the consumer’s perception of contamination should
Tangible and intangible bodily cues of contamination
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generate the disgust experience, which in turn should produce more negative consumer
responses. Thus, contamination, followed by disgust, should mediate the effects of body
contamination cues (whether tangible or intangible) on product evaluation and purchase
intention.
2.4. Mental imagery mediates the effects of contamination cues
Mental imagery is the process by which contamination affects consumer responses. In
fact, consumers rarely see contaminants (sales staff or other consumers); rather, they infer
contamination (Morales & Fitzsimons, 2007) based on the faintest of cues, leaving the consumer
to visualize an entity in his/her mind through mental imagery and to elaborate on it (Paivio,
1971). Mental imagery acts as a simulation of perception (Thomas, 2017) and is a multimodal,
multidimensional concept (MacInnis & Price, 1990). This research focuses on the visual
modality of mental imagery because this is the dominant processing mode for most people
(Gutman, 1988). Ellen and Bone (1991) highlighted two dimensions of mental imagery that are
often studied in psychology and marketing and are relevant in the context of contamination: the
valence and vividness of mental images. This study investigates these dimensions, reviews their
impact on attitudes and behavioral intention, and examines the extent to which they are elicited
by contamination cues. The term ‘valence’ refers to the (un)pleasantness of mental images
(MacInnis & Price, 1990), which can be positive or negative. Negative/positive images yield
negative/positive evaluations (Rossiter & Percy, 1980), attitudes and behavioral intentions (Ellen
& Bone, 1991; MacInnis & Price, 1990). According to Morales and Fitzsimons (2007),
perceived contamination results in negative mental imagery. Vividness refers to the clarity with
which the individual experiences an image and involves the quality aspects of the evoked
Tangible and intangible bodily cues of contamination
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imagery (Marks, 1973). Vividness has been shown to mediate the effects of advertising stimuli
consumers’ behavioral intentions (Burns, Biswas, & Babin, 1993).
Disgust results from threats imagined by the individual as a consequence of coming into
contact with contamination cues, priming mental imagery. Because disgust, by its very nature, is
an unpleasant emotional experience, the associated mental imagery is also negative and vivid,
representing the strong and intense nature of disgust as an emotion (Holmes, Mathews,
Mackintosh, & Dalgleish, 2008). Given that contamination cues activate negative mental
imagery associated with the properties or attributes of a product (Morales & Fitzsimons, 2007)
and that mental imagery impacts attitudes and purchase intention, mental imagery should
mediate the effects of contamination stimuli on attitudes and purchase intention (Burns et al.,
1993; MacInnis & Price, 1990). This research therefore assumes that mental imagery mediates
the effects of contamination cues on product evaluation and purchase intention (Morales &
Fitzsimons, 2007).
2.5. Research model and predictions
This study aims to examine the effects of tangible and intangible body contamination
cues on the consumer evaluation and purchase intention of unpackaged goods. It assumes that
the observed effects result from the successive mediation of perceived contamination, disgust
and negative mental imagery. Figure 1 presents the research model.
This research predicts that tangible and intangible contamination cues will have different
effects on product evaluation and purchase intention depending on the perceived contamination,
the elicited disgust and the mental imagery (valence and vividness). In the case of a tangible
Tangible and intangible bodily cues of contamination
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contamination cue (a hair), perceived contamination and disgust would be stronger, leading to
more negative and vivid mental images. As a result, this would lead to a lower product
evaluation and purchase intention than in the case of an intangible contamination cue.
This research assumes, following Argo et al. (2006), that the strength of contamination
effects differs according to the level of intimacy of contact. Intimacy of contact refers to how
close the contaminant is to the body (Angyal, 1941). For products with lower levels of intimacy,
contact contamination effects should be higher than for products with higher levels of intimacy
(Argo et al., 2006). We predict that for products with lower (higher) levels of intimacy, product
evaluation and purchase intention should be higher (lower) because of a lower (higher) degree of
perceived contamination and, consequently, less (more) disgust experience and less (more)
negative mental imagery.
3. Methodology
3.1. Research design
To test the effects of contamination cues either tangible (a hair) or intangible (others’
bodily contact) on product evaluation and purchase intention, three experiments were
conducted. They followed the same between-subjects factorial design: 2 (presence of a hair vs.
absence of a hair) X 2 (presence of contact with another’s body vs. absence of contact with
another’s body) for three different product categories. The experiments varied in terms of the
intimacy of contact because contamination effects were expected to differ depending on the
intimacy of contact (Angyal, 1941). Study 1 focused on a book (low level of intimacy of
contact), Study 2 focused on a t-shirt (medium level of intimacy of contact) and Study 3 focused
Tangible and intangible bodily cues of contamination
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on an apple (high level of intimacy of contact). Three underlying cognitive mechanisms were
scrutinized to identify their mediating role in the effects of contamination cues on product
evaluation and purchase intention. The following sequential chain was tested: contamination →
disgust → mental imagery.
After completion of the task (which varied for each of the studies - see below), the
participants answered a questionnaire. They indicated whether they felt disgusted during this
experience and then provided their evaluation of and purchase intention for the product. Then
they rated the perception of product contamination, completed a manipulation check on the
certainty that the product had been touched by someone else and indicated the attractiveness of
the person who touched the product before them. Finally, they assessed the valence and
vividness of mental imagery and were asked whether they guessed the study’s topic. Participants
were rewarded with $10 for their participation. 3.2. Measures The same measurement scales were used for the 3 studies. They were displayed in the same order in the questionnaires. Contamination cue manipulation was assessed on two seven- point scales: What is the likelihood that the same book you touched had been touched by another participant?” (1 = Not at all likely, 7 = Definitely likely) and “How certain are you that another participant actually touched the book before you?” (1 = Not at all certain, 7 = Very certain and 1 = Not at all confident, 7 = Very confident). Product evaluation was measured based on a semantic differential scale with five items: “What is your overall impression of the product?” (Poor / Good; Negative / Positive; Non-desirable / Desirable; Unfavorable / Favorable; Unpleasant / Nice). We used a single item to measure purchase intention: “How likely would you Tangible and intangible bodily cues of contamination 14 be to buy the product?” (Not at all likely / Very likely). All of these scales were used in a precursor study on contamination by Argo et al. (2006). Contamination was measured by three items on a seven-point scale (“A book touched by a stranger is dirty,” “A book touched by a stranger is unclean,” “A book touched by a stranger is contaminated”). Disgust was measured by a single item: “How did you feel during this experience?” (Not at all disgusted / Very disgusted). Mental imagery of the product was assessed along two dimensions: valence and vividness. Babin and Burns’s (1998) scale was chosen to measure vividness: “To what extent was the image of the product that you touched” (Not at all clear / Very clear, Not at all detailed / Very detailed, Not at all weak / Very weak, Not at all fuzzy / Very fuzzy, Not at all vague / Very vague, Not at all vivid / Very vivid, Not at all sharp / Very sharp, Not at all well-defined / Very well-defined). One item was borrowed from Miller and Stoica’s (2003) scale to appraise mental imagery valence: “All of the images which came to your mind about the product are”: Extremely pleasant / Extremely unpleasant. All items were evaluated on a seven-point scale. 4. Study 1: Effects of contamination for a book (low level of intimacy of contact) The objective of Study 1 was to show that contamination cues (a hair vs. contact with another’s body) lead to lower product evaluation and purchase intention and that contamination, disgust, and mental imagery mediate the observed effects for a product with a low level of intimacy of contact. 4.1. Design, participants and procedure Study 1 included 95 participants at a Canadian university (graduate and undergraduate students) with an average age of 26.32 years and an equal gender balance (49.5% females). Tangible and intangible bodily cues of contamination 15 Participants were required to register on the university’s website, where a brief presentation of the study was available, which indicated that a task would be performed. The total duration of the experiment did not exceed one hour, and the experiment took place in the research laboratory of the same university. For logistical reasons, participants were assigned to the experimental groups before they entered the laboratory by randomly picking one piece of paper out of four that contained the same information: it asked the participants to choose a book called “Draw 3D” from a variety of books displayed on a table. They were then instructed to leaf through the book. In the experimental group, “presence of contact with another’s body,” one of the research collaborators was leafing through the book when the participants arrived near the table. In the experimental group “presence of a hair,” a hair was placed on the product before the participants entered the room. The researcher accompanied the participants to the stimuli, pretended to be surprised by the presence of a hair on the product, and apologized. 4.2. Data analysis 4.2.1. Preliminary analyses The contamination scale (α = 0.934), mental imagery scale (α = 0.946) and product evaluation scale (α = 0.962) displayed good psychometric properties. The manipulation check showed that all participants were to some extent positive that the product had been touched by someone else. 4.2.2. The mediating role of contamination Tangible and intangible bodily cues of contamination 16 An analysis of variance (ANOVA) (presence vs. absence of a hair) revealed a significant effect on product evaluation (F (1.93) = 55.202; p = 0.000; Eta² = 0.372) and purchase intention (F (1.93) = 54.772; p = 0.000; Eta² = 0.371). In the presence of a hair, evaluation of the book was lower (Mpresence of hair = 3.7098; Mabsence of hair = 5.5864), and participants were less likely to buy it (Mpresence of a hair = 2.10; Mabsence of a hair = 4.11). Moreover, an ANOVA (presence vs. absence of contact with another’s body) revealed a significant effect on product evaluation (F (1.93) = 19.188; p = 0.000; Eta² = 0.171) (Mpresence of contact with another’s body = 3.8667; Mabsence of contact with another’s body = 5.1434), but there was no significant effect on purchase intention (Mpresence of contact with another’s body = 2.74; Mabsence of contact with another’s body = 3.26). Figure 2 presents these results. To test for interaction between the two contamination cues, planned contrasts were also created (Tabachnik & Fidell, 2007). The first predicted that the simultaneous presence of two factors would lead to the most unfavorable responses toward the product (compared to other conditions). The second contrast assumed that one of the two contamination cues would produce lower responses. The results of the ANOVA revealed that the interaction term was not significant. Nevertheless, the joint presence of two factors led to the most unfavorable product evaluation (compared to other conditions) (Mpresence of contact with another’s body and presence of a hair =3.2957; Mpresence of a hair and absence of contact with another’s body = 4.5727; Mabsence of a hair and presence of contact with another’s body = 4.4364; Mabsence of a hair and absence of contact with another’s body = 5.7500). The same pattern of results was observed for purchase intention (Mpresence of a contact with another’s body and presence of a hair = 2.17; Mpresence of a hair and absence of contact with another’s body = 3.14; Mabsence of a hair and presence of contact with another’s body = 2.36; Mabsence of a hair and absence of contact with another’s body = 4.18). Planned contrast 2 was significant for Tangible and intangible bodily cues of contamination 17 product evaluation but not for purchase intention. The presence of a hair generated lower responses toward the product than the presence of contact with another’s body. Bootstrap resamples were employed using an SPSS macro (Process model 6) (Preacher & Hayes, 2008) appropriate for mediation models. We tested multiple mediators, as presented within the research model (see Figure 1). Contamination followed by disgust and mental imagery (valence and vividness) mediated the relationship between contamination cues and responses toward the product (except for the relation of another’s body → contamination vividness valence purchase intention). The results are displayed in Table 1. It can be argued that the observed effects do not result from contamination but rather that the book was perceived as a used product (rather than a brand new one). To rule out this alternative explanation, this research investigated whether ‘usedness’ mediated the effects of contamination cues on product evaluation. The perception of a product as having been used was measured using three items on a seven-point scale (“A book touched by a stranger is damaged,” “A book touched by a stranger is ruined,” “A book touched by a stranger is spoiled”; (α = 0.905)). The SPSS macro (Process model 4) (Preacher & Hayes, 2008) showed no significant effect for used product perception (0 was included in the BootLLCI-BootULCI). 4.3. Discussion of study 1 The results of Study 1 demonstrated that a hair (tangible contamination cue) or contact with another’s body (intangible contamination cue) on a book was perceived as a contamination cue that impacted consumer product evaluation and purchase intention. We found that the observed differences resulted from contamination and not from product usedness. The results Tangible and intangible bodily cues of contamination 18 also showed that contamination followed by disgust and the valence of mental imagery accounted for these effects: the higher the contamination, the experienced disgust and the negativity of mental imagery, the lower the consumers’ responses. These results suggest that the three underlying cognitive mechanisms are relevant to account for the impact of contamination cues on product evaluation and purchase intention. However, to test the robustness of the results obtained for a book, a second study was conducted for a product (a t-shirt) with a higher intimacy of contact. 5. Study 2: Effects of contamination for a t-shirt (medium level of intimacy of contact) Given that the intimacy of contact reinforces the consequences of contamination, this research assumed that the effects of contamination cues would be stronger for a t-shirt than for a book and thus that the product evaluation and purchase intention for a t-shirt would be lower (Argo et al., 2006). The effects of contamination (elicited by the presence of a contamination cue) on disgust experience, mental imagery and consumer responses (product evaluation and purchase intention) were examined. 5.1. Design, participants, procedure and measures A similar procedure was used as in Study 1, with the exception of the product considered. A total of 118 individuals participated in the study. The average age was 22.98 years, and 64.4% were women. The experiments took place in the same laboratory as Study 1. A first room (approximately 50 m²) and a second room (approximately 5 m², adjoining the main room) were set aside for the research. A series of clothes was arranged on racks. Participants were asked to try on the only t-shirt printed with the name of their university. In the experimental group Tangible and intangible bodily cues of contamination 19 “presence of contact with another’s body,” the research collaborator returned to the adjoining room with the t-shirt in her hands and put the t-shirt back on the rack in front of the participant. The participant then had to try on the t-shirt in the small second room and return to the main room moments later. In the experimental group examining the “presence of a hair,” a hair was placed on the product before the participant entered the room. The same measures were used as in Study 1. 5.2. Data analysis 5.2.1. Preliminary analyses All the scales displayed good psychometric properties: contamination (α = 0.876), mental imagery (α = 0.902) and product evaluation (α = 0.948). The same manipulation check was used as in Study 1. The results showed that all participants were to some extent positive that the product had been touched by someone else. 5.2.2. Effects of contamination cues on consumer responses An analysis of variance (ANOVA) (presence vs. absence of a hair) revealed a significant effect on product evaluation (F (1.116) = 36.022; p = 0.000; Eta² = 0.237) and purchase intention (F (1.116) = 25.342; p = .000; Eta² = 0.179). When informants observed the hair, they evaluated the product less favorably (Mpresence of a hair = 3.6949; Mabsence of a hair = 5.1153) and were less likely to buy it (Mpresence of a hair = 2.64; Mabsence of a hair = 4.02). Moreover, an ANOVA (presence vs. absence of contact with another’s body) highlighted a significant effect on product evaluation (F (1.116) = 20.536 p < 0.05; Eta² = 0.150) and purchase intention (F (1.116) = 11.47; p < 0.01; Tangible and intangible bodily cues of contamination 20 Eta² = 0.090). In the body contact group, the product evaluation was lower (Mpresence of contact with another’s body = 3.6844) than in the no-contact condition (Mabsence of contact with another’s body = 4.8493). Purchase intention was also lower in the body contact group (Mpresence of contact with another’s body = 2.71) than in the no-contact group. (Mabsence of contact with another’s body = 3.71). Figure 3 summarizes these results. To test the interaction between the two contamination cues, planned contrasts were created (Tabachnik & Fidell, 2007). The ANOVA revealed that the interaction term was not significant; however, when two factors were present, planned contrast 1 generated significantly lower product evaluation (Mpresence of contact with another’s body and presence of a hair = 3.0091; Mpresence of a hair and absence of contact with another’s body = 4.1027; Mabsence of a hair and presence of contact with another’s body = 4.3304; Mabsence of a hair and absence of contact with another’s body = 5.6167). The same pattern of results was observed for purchase intentions (Mpresence of contact with another’s body and presence of a hair = 2.05; Mpresence of a hair and absence of contact with another’s body = 3.00; Mabsence of a hair and presence of contact with another’s body = 3.35; Mabsence of a hair and absence of contact with another’s body = 4.44). Planned contrast 2 was significant for product evaluation and purchase intention. The presence of a hair generated lower responses toward the t-shirt than the presence of contact with another’s body. 5.2.3. The mediating role of contamination, disgust and mental imagery This study assumed that contamination, disgust and mental imagery would mediate the effects of contamination cues on product evaluation and purchase intention. To test this assumption, bootstrap resamples were used with an SPSS macro (Process model 6) (Preacher & Tangible and intangible bodily cues of contamination 21 Hayes, 2008). The findings showed a series of mediations: contamination followed by disgust and mental imagery (valence and vividness) mediated the relationship between contamination cues and responses toward the product. Table 2 presents these results. 5.3. Discussion of study 2 The results of Study 2 showed that the presence of a hair on a t-shirt could be perceived as a contamination cue and that, consequently, consumer product evaluation and purchase intention were lower than when no cues were present. Moreover, the presence of contact with another’s body was perceived as a contamination cue and yielded less favorable responses than when no cues were present. Interestingly, planned contrasts showed that the presence of a hair (tangible contamination cue) generated lower responses toward the product (evaluation and purchase intention) than the presence of contact with another’s body (intangible contamination cue). The results of Study 2 confirmed the findings of Study 1 for a book. However, product evaluation and purchase intention were not significantly different for a t-shirt (Study 2) and for a book (Study 1), suggesting that higher intimacy of contact did not negatively reinforce the effects of contamination cues. Contrary to our expectations, the effects of contamination in this study were similar regardless of the proximity of contact. The results of Study 2 also showed that contamination, the subsequent disgust experience and mental imagery (valence and vividness) mediated the effects of the two contamination cues (a hair and contact with another’s body). Product evaluation and purchase intention were lower because participants perceived the t-shirt to be contaminated; consequently, they experienced Tangible and intangible bodily cues of contamination 22 disgust and developed negative mental images. Again, these mechanisms were shown to account for the observed effects. Given that the intimacy of contact did not reinforce the contamination consequences for the t-shirt as expected, in a third study, we tested whether these observed results were robust for a product with a high intimacy of contact (i.e., an apple) and whether the responses would be negatively impacted as the level of intimacy of contact increased. It was assumed that the effects of body contamination cues would be stronger for an apple, which is an ingestible product, implying that something external enters one’s body. Thus, it is the most intimate form of contact (Argo et al., 2006). 6. Study 3: Effects of contamination for an apple (high level of intimacy of contact) Ingesting food means allowing something external to enter one’s body and “can be thought of as a highly personal and risky act” (Rozin et al., 2000, p. 640). The aversive reaction to an offensive entity is stronger when in the mouth than when close to the mouth; thus, the elicited disgust is more extreme (Rozin & Fallon, 1987). Disgusting substances can make food inedible through casual contact even if there are no detectable traces of the infected food. Eating a substance that is perceived as spoiled creates, for many people, the height of disgust. Thus, a body contamination cue on an apple, which is an edible product, should induce higher levels of disgust (than any non-edible product) and consequently should generate more negative responses. Thus, consumer responses should be less favorable for an apple than for the two previously studied product categories. 6.1. Design, participants, procedure and measures Tangible and intangible bodily cues of contamination 23 The same procedure and measures were used as in Studies 1 and 2, with the exception that the target product was an apple. Participants had to pick an apple from a cardboard box. In total, 102 individuals participated in the study (graduate and undergraduate students, average age: 24.16 years, 53.9% females). 6.2. Data analysis 6.2.1. Preliminary analyses All the scales displayed good psychometric properties for contamination (α = 0.843), mental imagery vividness (α = 0.877) and product evaluation (α = 0.932). The same manipulation checks as in Studies 1 and 2 were conducted. The results showed that all participants were to some extent positive that the product had been touched by someone else. 6.2.2. Results An analysis of variance (ANOVA) (presence vs. absence of a hair) revealed a significant effect on product evaluation (F (1.100) = 26.806; p = 0.000, Eta² = 0.211) and on purchase intention (F (1.100) = 14.634; p = 0.000; Eta² = 0.128). In the presence of a hair, the apple’s evaluation was lower (Mpresence of a hair = 4.4808; Mabsence of a hair = 5.5040), as was its purchase intention (Mpresence of a hair = 3.56; Mabsence of a hair = 4.80). Moreover, an ANOVA (presence vs. absence of contact with another’s body) revealed a significant effect on product evaluation (F (1.100) = 9.511; p < 0.05; Eta² = 0.087) and on purchase intention (F (1.100) = 15.352; p = 0.000; Eta² = 0.133). In the body contact group, the apple’s evaluation (Mpresence of contact with another’s Tangible and intangible bodily cues of contamination 24 body = 4.6480; Mabsence of contact with another’s body = 5.3038) and purchase intention (Mpresence of contact with another’s body = 3.52; Mabsence of contact with another’s body = 4.72) were lower. Figure 4 shows these effects. To test the interaction between the two contamination cues, planned contrasts were also created (Tabachnik & Fidell, 2007). The ANOVA revealed that the interaction term was not significant. Nevertheless, the joint presence of two factors led to the most unfavorable product evaluation (compared to other conditions) (Mpresence of contact with another’s body and presence of a hair = 4.3538; Mpresence of a hair and absence of contact with another’s body = 4.6077; Mabsence of a hair and presence of contact with another’s body = 4.9667; Mabsence of a hair and absence of contact with another’s body = 6.0000). The same pattern of results was observed for purchase intention (Mpresence of contact with another’s body and presence of a hair = 2.88; Mpresence of a hair and absence of contact with another’s body = 4.21; Mabsence of a hair and presence of contact with another’s body = 4.23; Mabsence of a hair and absence of contact with another’s body = 5.35). Planned contrast 2 was significant for purchase intention but not for product evaluation. The presence of a hair generated lower responses toward the product than the presence of contact with another’s body. As in Studies 1 and 2, the intimacy of contact had no effect on responses toward the product; more intimacy of contact did not lead to lower responses. Moreover, the findings showed a series of mediations. As in Studies 1 and 2, we used an SPSS macro (Process model 6) (Preacher & Hayes, 2008). Contamination followed by disgust and mental imagery (valence and vividness) mediated the relationship between contamination cues and responses toward the product. Table 3 presents these results. 6.3. Discussion of study 3 Tangible and intangible bodily cues of contamination 25 The results of Study 3 showed that in the case of an apple, a hair or contact with another’s body was perceived as a contamination cue. Consequently, consumer product evaluation and purchase intention were lower than when no cues were present. Interestingly, the planned contrasts showed that the presence of a hair (tangible contamination cue) generated lower responses toward the product (evaluation and purchase intention) than the presence of contact with another’s body (intangible contamination cue). The results of Study 3 confirmed the findings of Study 1 for a book and of Study 2 for a t-shirt. However, product evaluation and purchase intention were not lower for the apple than for the two other product categories, contrary to our expectations. In other words, regardless of the intimacy of contact (low, medium or high), contamination cues have almost the same negative effect on consumers’ responses. The results of Study 3 also showed that contamination, disgust and mental imagery (valence and vividness) mediated these effects. Participants perceived the apple to be contaminated and consequently experienced disgust, which in turn induced vivid negative mental images. 7. General discussion The findings of this study have several implications for research and practice. 7.1. Research implications The results of this research showed that contamination cues (whether tangible or intangible) yield lower product evaluation and purchase intention than when no cues are present. These results are consistent with prior research on contamination (Argo et al., 2006; Castro et al., 2013; Galoni & Noseworthy, 2015; Morales & Fitzsimons, 2007; White et al., 2016). The Tangible and intangible bodily cues of contamination 26 mediating role of contamination, disgust and mental imagery (valence and vividness) was demonstrated for the three product categories studied in this research. Thus, when people are exposed to a contamination cue, they first perceive contamination, which generates disgust as they imagine the associated threats to themselves and the properties of the product. The intensity of subsequent mental imagery (negative and vivid) directly corresponds with the strength of the disgust experienced. Interestingly, planned contrasts showed that the two contamination cues did not produce the same negative effects. The tangible cue (a hair) produced less favorable responses toward the product than the intangible cue (contact with another’s body). A closer look at the mediators indicates that individuals who observed a hair on a book, a t-shirt or an apple perceived the products as more contaminated. They also experienced more disgust and more negative vivid mental images than those who were presented with the same products that had supposedly been in contact with another’s body. First, the higher contamination for the hair may be due to the fact that a concrete (tangible) stimulus produced more cognitive elaboration than an abstract stimulus. Indeed, concreteness eases the activation of relevant mental structures (Anderson & Bower, 1973; Kisielius, 1982) that are directly linked to the stimulus (Kisielius & Sternthal, 1984). Thus, hair, a tangible cue, is more easily perceived as a contamination cue. Second, greater disgust toward hair on a product may stem from the visual perception of a bodily substance (Croy et al., 2013) that appears to be a violent invasion of territory (Rozin et al., 2000). Consequently, in an attempt to defend themselves, individuals withdraw from the disgust- eliciting source and strongly reject the contaminated object, thereby expressing higher disgust, which consequently decreases product evaluation. Third, the more negative and vivid imagery for a hair compared to the supposed contact with another’s body may stem from the power of a Tangible and intangible bodily cues of contamination 27 concrete stimulus to elicit stronger mental imagery activity. Paivio (1971) explained this finding according to dual-coding theory: a concrete word is encoded in memory both visually and verbally, which implies more extraction paths. Since then, many studies have demonstrated the superiority of concrete stimuli (words and pictures) over abstract stimuli (e.g., Lutz & Lutz, 1978; Miller, 1994; Rossiter & Percy, 1980). Finally, the results showed that consumer responses were not dependent on the product. The results of the ANOVA across the three studies revealed that responses toward the book were not greater than responses toward the apple. Moreover, the strength of the effect was not greater for more intimate products (book eta² > t-shirt eta² > apple eta²). Consequently, these research results reveal that higher degrees of intimacy of contact do not lead to more negative consumer responses due to a higher perception of contamination, disgust and vivid negative mental imagery. This pattern of results contrasts with the expectations following Argo et al. (2006). One possible reason is that in the current experimental design for the book and the t-shirt, the participants were unable to use the common coping strategy of removing the contaminant (Rachman, 2004), while the apple could be washed before being eaten. The procedure asked participants to try on the t-shirt in the fitting room, which implied coming into contact with the supposedly contaminated product without having the opportunity to decontaminate it beforehand. Conversely, participants were only asked to choose an apple, not to eat it on the spot. Only their hands came into contact with the ‘contaminated’ product. Hands are easily washable, which may have lowered the product evaluation to a lesser extent than what was expected. The book also could not be decontaminated; it is not possible to wash a book to remove stains. There, the contamination is permanent. In the experimental setting, the book may have appeared to be the least decontaminable item, followed by the t-shirt and the apple. This Tangible and intangible bodily cues of contamination 28 order follows the aforementioned eta² pattern, which supports the relevance of the decontamination explanation. Nevertheless, in a real setting, the pattern might differ slightly. While it is impossible to remove contamination cues from a book, a t-shirt can easily be washed to remove any contact with previous wearers (even if it is brand new), and an apple can be washed before being eaten. Hence, both products can be ‘decontaminated’ easily and fully. From the data collected, we cannot ascertain the relevance of this explanation. The ‘reversibility’ of contamination deserves attention. Another possible explanation may be based on the construal level theory (Trope & Liberman, 2010, p. 440), which suggests that people exhibit certain behavior “by forming abstract mental construals of distal objects”. The construal level theory is also based on the level of abstraction of individuals (Trope & Liberman, 2003, 2010)(Trope & Liberman, 2003; Trope & Liberman, 2010). The level of abstraction of an event or an object depends on the ability to create images (Paivio, Yuille, & Madigan, 1968). Thus, this research suggests that even though an apple is an ingestible good, in a retail environment, intimate contact with the apple is perceived to be more distant (from a spatio-temporal point of view) than trying on a t-shirt or reading a book. Indeed, consumers are not supposed to eat the apple directly in the store, whereas they must try the t-shirt on or leaf through the book immediately. This research provides four main contributions to knowledge on product contamination. First, the results provide an understanding of unpackaged products. Most previous research, with the exception of Argo et al. (2006), has addressed packaged consumer goods. Second, the results shed light on three underlying cognitive mechanisms, showing that contamination, disgust and mental imagery (valence and/or vividness) mediate the observed effects. The mediating role of disgust is consistent with the works of Argo et al. (2006), Morales and Fitzsimons (2007), Castro Tangible and intangible bodily cues of contamination 29 et al. (2013), Galoni and Noseworthy (2015) and White et al. (2016). The results of this research contribute to the body of knowledge on disgust by highlighting new conditions under which disgust accounts for the effects of product contamination: tangible cues (such as a hair) and intangible cues (such as contact with another’s body) that are likely to elicit a disgust experience and result in lower product evaluation. Third, this research contributes to the field of marketing by explicitly showing the mediating role of contamination. In past research (e.g., Argo et al., 2006), contamination was only inferred, while in this study, contamination was measured (as in White et al., 2016). The three-item scale developed for the purposes of this study, which displayed satisfactory psychometric characteristics (α = 0.902), could be useful for future research. Finally, Krishna (2012) has addressed the importance of identifying the underlying mechanisms that can explain the effects of sensory marketing and has highlighted mental imagery. Our research, in line with these claims, empirically demonstrates that mental imagery (valence and vividness) mediates the effects of contamination cues on consumer responses. A hair (tangible contamination cue) on a product elicited mental images referring to the spoiled properties of the product. However, even when respondents were not visually exposed to the contaminant (intangible cue), they generated mental images that acted as a simulation of perception (Thomas, 2017). When exposed to a negative stimulus (tangible or intangible contamination cue), consumers had vivid and negative mental images, confirming Morales and Fitzsimons’ (2007) work. 7.2. Implications for business settings This research shows that body contamination cues lead to contamination and, consequently, decreased product evaluation and purchase intention. Because the studies were Tangible and intangible bodily cues of contamination 30 conducted in a lab setting, our recommendations to managers should not be taken as definite guidelines but rather as stimulating insights for decision making. Consumers inevitably have a specific in-store experience. This experience can be induced by sensory stimulation (visual, auditory, and olfactory as well as tactile). Because managers cannot prevent customers from touching products and consequently run the risk of potential product contamination, they need to find ways to decrease the perception of contamination and develop solutions to reduce negative effects of contamination perceptions on purchase intentions. In an attempt to reduce the perception of contamination, managers could ensure that products on the shelves (and the shelves themselves) are clean (i.e., no contaminating agents are visible). The results of this research have shown that seeing a tangible cue (a hair) on or close to an object stimulates the imagination of consumers, who infer negative characteristics about the product and/or the consequences for themselves. Because consumers also infer contamination from intangible cues, managers could strive to reduce such cues. In a store, there are many cues that may suggest that a product has been handled in the past (e.g., clothing that has been unfolded or torn labels). Managers could therefore ensure that products on shelves are closely monitored (Castro et al., 2013) and should pay particular attention to appropriate merchandising and well-managed product displays (Argo et al., 2006). Beyond conveying an impression of cleanliness, this would be consistent with consumers’ strategy to avoid product contamination: many consumers habitually take the second or third product in a stack (Argo et al., 2006). Consequently, the two first products would remain unsold, thereby limiting the retailer’s profit. We suggest that managers avoid the use of product displays that encourage customers to rummage for a specific item, leaving the display in disarray. Moreover, because intimacy of contact may not influence contamination and responses toward the product, managers in retail Tangible and intangible bodily cues of contamination 31 settings may want to consider treating all products equally, even those for which intimacy of contact is low. However, this finding needs to be confirmed by future research using a different array of products and samples of consumers. Importantly, sales staff should be informed of contamination issues and should be properly trained to deliver the quality of service expected by customers. When employees are aware of the negative impact of contamination, they may be more likely to quickly remove contamination cues by performing simple actions such as refolding, restocking, repackaging and returning products quickly to shelf locations (Argo et al., 2006). Beyond fostering an atmosphere of cleanliness and tidiness, it might be profitable for managers to develop offers that compensate for the negative effects of contamination on purchase intention. In some retail stores where managers are unable to hide the fact that products have been handled in the past (e.g., a blister pack that has been opened or a piece of fruit that has been touched), they could offer a price discount. The rationale is that through a trade-off mechanism (Johnson, 1974), consumers might consider buying the contaminated product. Negative contamination effects could be compensated by a reduced price; in other words, the benefits of a reduced price (economic value) may outweigh the drawbacks associated with contamination. 7.3. Limitations and research avenues This study has several limitations. First, it considers a combination of three cognitive processes contamination, disgust and mental imagery with regard to their mediating role on the effects of body contamination cues for product evaluation. Although this research allows for an understanding of the steps of the entire cognitive process, more cognitive processes, such as Tangible and intangible bodily cues of contamination 32 attention and memorization, could be included in the model. Additionally, it could be insightful to investigate mental representations in addition to mental imagery. Second, many other contamination cues could have been considered. This experiment chose to distinguish cues along the tangible / intangible axis based on Nemeroff and Rozin (1994) and Argo et al. (2006). However, the effects of (non)removable contamination cues on product evaluation could be investigated. Indeed, it is likely that a body contaminating cue that can be removed before the product’s consumption (for example, a hair) would have a less negative effect on product evaluation than a contaminating cue that cannot be removed (such as sweat marks on a t-shirt). Thus, the same experiment could be conducted on a product that cannot be washed (e.g., a cupcake). Similarly, instead of a t-shirt, sunscreen or any other product that comes in direct contact with the skin but cannot be decontaminated beforehand could be studied. Third, in the present study, an intangible cue was conceived as contact with another’s body. Because all body parts do not have equal contaminating potential (Miller, 1998, p. 58), future research could examine whether different parts of the body have the same effect on contamination for a given product category. For example, the effects could be stronger if a person’s chest has previously touched a product rather than their hand. Fourth, three product categories were studied, a book, an apple and a t-shirt, due to their familiarity and differing levels of intimacy of contact. However, contrary to our expectations, higher degrees of intimacy of contact did not lead to more negative responses due to a higher perception of contamination, greater disgust and more vivid negative imagery. This finding suggests that intimacy of contact alone cannot explain the effects of contamination cues; these must be explained in conjunction with contaminant removal / washability (Rachman, 2004) Tangible and intangible bodily cues of contamination 33 and/or psychological distance (Trope & Liberman, 2010). For food products, the complexity is even higher due to the crucial issue of edibility, which leads to more idiosyncratic and extreme reactions (Fallon et al., 1984). In the present research, body contamination effects were studied for an apple (Study 3). The results might have been different for an orange, which is also a food product but differs from an apple because of its internal edible parts and inedible rind (while an apple’s outside is eaten). The results should be generalized with caution, and future research should further explore the combined effects of product characteristics (edibility, washability), psychological distance and intimacy of contact. Fifth, future studies should identify the role of employees versus consumers in affecting contamination. Would a consumer react differently when facing a product manipulated by another consumer rather than by an employee? Sixth, given the multi-dimensionality of perception, including visual and olfactory cues, contamination cues could be manipulated. For example, in the case of a product contaminated by sweat, contamination cues could be manipulated either exclusively visually (sweat marks), exclusively olfactorily (sweat odor) or both visually and olfactorily (sweat marks and sweat odor). The reinforcing effect of the two perception modalities is a promising research avenue. The current research tested only visual mental imagery. However, additional sensory modalities of mental imagery could have been investigated because a product can evoke visual, auditory, gustatory, olfactory or haptic imagery (MacInnis & Price, 1990). Similarly, other dimensions of mental imagery could have been investigated (e.g., clarity, easiness, content, elaboration, quantity of images). Moreover, this research focused only on mental imagery of the product. However, in the intangible contamination cue condition in which the contaminant was unseen, the respondents may have generated mental images about the contaminant per se: the Tangible and intangible bodily cues of contamination 34 more negative the images about the person (and the cleanliness of his/her body), the more negative the product evaluation should be. Future studies should compare mental images of a product and of the person who touched the product. Additionally, the effect size of the mediating role of mental imagery may have been stronger if one group of participants were given imagery instructions. Past research strongly demonstrated that mental imagery has a direct impact on mental imagery activity and results in better mnemonic performance (Paivio, 1971). If this group showed stronger product contamination than the group that did not receive the instructions, this would allow researchers to determine the causal role of mental imagery. Additionally, two constructs were measured with a single-item scale (purchase intention and disgust). A multiple- item scale could be used in future research to improve psychometric validity. Finally, the research sample was limited to a North American population. Contamination could be analyzed from a cultural perspective in future research. For example, in a Brazilian context, Corrêa and Dubeux (2015) showed in a qualitative study that the participants had no concern about contamination, indicating that contamination may not be an issue for that group. Tangible and intangible bodily cues of contamination 35 References Anderson, J. R., & Bower, G. H. (1973). Human associative memory. Washington, DC: V. H. Winston. Angyal, A. (1941). Disgust and related aversions. 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W., & Ritchie, R. J. B. (2016). When do consumers avoid imperfections? Superficial packaging damage as a contamination cue. Journal of Marketing Research, 53, 110-123. doi: 10.1509/jmr.12.0388 Tangible and intangible bodily cues of contamination 41 Tables Table 1. Mediation results Study 1 (a book). Mediations Results Hair contamination disgust valence product evaluation ([-0.0093; -0.0001], c = -5.8149, p = 0.0000) Hair contamination disgust valence purchase intention ([-0.0058; -0.0003], c = -6.2851, p = 0.0000) Another’s body contamination disgust valence product evaluation ([-0.0128; -0.0012], c = -2.1819, p = 0.0317) Another’s body contamination disgust valence purchase intention ([-0.0130; -0.0007], c = -0.0138, p = 0.9890) Hair contamination disgust vividness product evaluation ([-0.0053; -0.0004], c = -6.3294, p = 0.0000) Hair contamination disgust vividness purchase intention ([-0.0087; -0.0002], c = -5.7453, p = 0.0000) Another’s body contamination disgust vividness product evaluation ([-0.0098; -0.0010], c = -2.3195, p = 0.0231) Another’s body contamination disgust vividness purchase intention NS - (0 was included in the BootLLCI- BootULCI Tangible and intangible bodily cues of contamination 42 Table 2. Mediation results Study 2 (a t-shirt). Mediations Results Hair contamination disgust valence product evaluation ([-0.0142; -0.0001], c = -4.4457, p = 0.0000) Hair contamination disgust valence purchase intention ([-0.0125; -0.0008], c = -3.17115, p = 0.0003) Another’s body contamination disgust valence product evaluation ([-0.0145; -0.0003], c = -2.8191, p = 0.0057) Another’s body contamination disgust valence purchase intention ([-0.0106; -0.0006], c = -2.0266, p = 0.0451) Hair contamination disgust vividness product evaluation ([-0.0090; -0.0002], c = -4.5972, p = 0.0000) Hair contamination disgust vividness purchase intention ([-0.0129; -0.0024], c = -3.6777, p = 0.0004) Another’s body contamination disgust vividness product evaluation ([-0.0020; -0.0002], c = -3.1451, p = 0.0021) Another’s body contamination disgust vividness purchase intention ([-0.0083; -0.0004], c = -2.2724, p = 0.0250) Tangible and intangible bodily cues of contamination 43 Table 3. Mediation results Study 3 (an apple). Mediations Results Hair contamination disgust valence product evaluation ([-0.0158; -0.0004], c = -4.6900, p = 0.0000) Hair contamination disgust valence purchase intention ([-0.0171; -0.0004], c = -4.0892, p = 0.000) Another’s body contamination disgust valence product evaluation ([-0.0137; -0.00101], c = -2.6915, p = 0.0086) Another’s body contamination disgust valence purchase intention ([-0.0112; -0.0007], c = -3.6048, p = 0.0005) Hair contamination disgust vividness product evaluation ([-0.0140; -0.0003], c = -5.0586, p = 0.0000) Hair contamination disgust vividness purchase intention ([-0.0148; -0.0003], c = -4.3518, p = 0.0000) Another’s body contamination disgust vividness product evaluation ([-0.0014; -0.0004], c = -3.4375, p = 0.0009) Another’s body contamination disgust vividness purchase intention ([-0.0086; -0.0017], c = -4.0458, p = 0.0001) Tangible and intangible bodily cues of contamination 44 Figure legends Figure 1. Model of the research Figure 2. Main effects (Book) Figure 3. Main effects (T-shirt) Figure 4. Main effects (Apple) ... Disgust ratings mediated this effect. Similar results have been found in more recent studies, using both tangible and intangible contamination cues (i.e., with and without perceptible residue) (Gérard and Helme-Guizon 2018), and across a variety of access-based services (i.e., where money is paid for temporary access to physical goods, including car-sharing and utility tools) (Hazée et al. 2019). ... ... Evidence shows that the disgust response promotes selective consumption, including, for example, sanitised and prototypical versions of organic products, such as fresh produce (Jaeger et al. 2018). Further, a body of research exploring the effects of contamination concerns on consumer behaviour illustrates how consumers may be put off from engaging with the second-hand market and buying used goods (Argo et al. 2006;Gérard and Helme-Guizon 2018;Hazée et al. 2019). Consumer comments found on online message boards about charity shops illustrate this phenomenon: "Honestly, I think buying clothes and shoes 2nd hand is quite gross!" and "I've picked up some real bargains on good brands. ... ... Initial investigations on disgust regulation in other fields, such as mental health, show some potential for cognitive reappraisal (e.g., Olatunji et al. 2017), while other studies support good old-fashioned exposure and habituation (e.g., . As work has shown that disgust can be a barrier to the consumption of pro-social, sustainable alternatives ) and the circular economy (Argo et al. 2006;Gérard and Helme-Guizon 2018;Hazée et al. 2019;Meng and Leary 2021), the literature would benefit from additional experiments on disgust regulation in applied settings. Effective regulation also applies in situations where disgust should be divorced from market decision-making (i.e., in deciding what products are permissible to marketise). ... ... This finding is consistent with the findings reported in most product literature (e.g., Luangrath et al., 2022;Peck & Shu, 2009). However, this is inconsistent with a few studies that have reported a negative touch effect (e.g., Gérard and Helme-Guizon 2018) and a few studies that have reported a non-existent touch effect (Liu et al., 2017;Peck & Wiggins, 2006). We believe the differences in the effect sizes can explain this inconsistency. ... Article Full-text available Consumers rely on physical touch in offline shopping and vicarious touch (i.e., imagining touch) in online shopping to develop their attitudes toward a product. The subject of how touching (versus not touching) affects consumer attitudes toward a product merits studying. However, past research has drawn controversial conclusions regarding the effect of product touch on consumer attitudes. This study conducted a meta‐analysis to resolve this inconsistency and explore the reasons for this inconsistency. It quantitatively analyzed 185 effect sizes in 42 empirical studies conducted between 2003 and 2022. In general, relative to not touching, touching had a positive effect on consumers' attitudes toward a product (ρ$\rho \$ = 0.242, p < 0.001), and the effect size was moderate. Furthermore, the positive touch effect was mediated by consumers' cognitive experiences relating to the product and their affective experiences relating to the product. The cognitive path (total indirect effect = 0.068, p < 0.001) being stronger than the affective path (total indirect effect = 0.067, p < 0.001). Importantly, it showed that past inconsistency regarding the touch effect could be explained by moderators including product type (utilitarian versus hedonic), participants' uncertainty avoidance, and type of touch (physical touch versus vicarious touch). This study provides new insights into the product touch literature and offers valuable implications for online and offline retailing and consumer well‐being.
... Our research also demonstrates that for ingestible products retail environment cues like HC and SM lead to a higher perception of contamination thus contributing to the consumer contamination literature. Prior research on contamination suggests the role of disorganized and messy stores in inferring contamination fear (Argo et al., 2006;Castro et al., 2013;Galoni et al., 2015;Gérard and Helme-Guizon, 2018;Morales and Fitzsimins, 2007;White et al., 2016). By also examining the role of HC, our research identifies another contamination cue that consumers experience when shopping for ingestible products thus contributing to the marketing literature. ...
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The current research explores how store environmental cues – human crowding and store messiness influence consumer purchase intention across two product type (ingestible and non-ingestible). Importantly, the research also examines the mediating role of contamination perception on these effects. Specifically, for ingested products (e.g., eggs), crowded and messy store environments signal contamination and lead to decrease in purchase intention. However, for non-ingested products (e.g., dishwashing liquid), contamination inferences are observed for store messiness but not for human crowding. Further, role of perceived scarcity is examined which suggests that in ingestible product category perception of scarcity can mitigate the negative effect of contamination on purchase intention.
... Our research also demonstrates that for ingestible products retail environment cues like HC and SM lead to a higher perception of contamination thus contributing to the consumer contamination literature. Prior research on contamination suggests the role of disorganized and messy stores in inferring contamination fear (Argo et al., 2006;Castro et al., 2013;Galoni et al., 2015;Gérard and Helme-Guizon, 2018;Morales and Fitzsimins, 2007;White et al., 2016). By also examining the role of HC, our research identifies another contamination cue that consumers experience when shopping for ingestible products thus contributing to the marketing literature. ...
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The current research explores how store environmental cues – human crowding and store messiness influence consumer purchase intention across two product type (ingestible and non-ingestible). Importantly, the research also examines the mediating role of contamination perception on these effects. Specifically, for ingested products (e.g., eggs), crowded and messy store environments signal contamination and lead to decrease in purchase intention. However, for non-ingested products (e.g., dishwashing liquid), contamination inferences are observed for store messiness but not for human crowding. Further, role of perceived scarcity is examined which suggests that in ingestible product category perception of scarcity can mitigate the negative effect of contamination on purchase intention. Keywords: Store environment, human crowding, store messiness, purchase intention, contamination, perceived scarcity, COVID-19 pandemic
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