Do genes influence consumer choice?


Perhaps, according to a new study coming out of Stanford’s Graduate School of Business.  The research, the first of its kind, studied the link between genetics and consumer decision making.  Conventional marketing wisdom says that consumer choice is unpredictable and can be influenced through advertising, packaging etc. The new findings suggest that consumer choices are in fact very stable, if not genetically pre-determined. 

The authors, Itamar Simonson and Aner Sela, explored the impact of genetics on consumer decision making by studying the behavior of identical and fraternal twins. Each set of  twins were subjected to a number of questionnaires in order to analyze their choices and opinions on a variety of issues. Where they found a greater similarity in behavior or trait between identical rather than between fraternal twins the authors concluded that the phenomenon or choice in question was likely to be inherited and therefore predictable.

While the researchers found no iPad gene, they did note that people seem to be genetically predisposed to one of two alternatives when making choices.  For example, people either:  make compromises or take more “extreme” options; select sure gains or take gambles; prefer easy but non-rewarding tasks or pursue challenging but more rewarding ones; and chose utilitarian items or hedonistic ones.

Simonson and Sela also found that people’s preferences may be genetically hardwired towards liking specific products such as chocolate, mustard, and hybrid cars. As well, there is a genetic predisposition towards certain musical forms such as opera and jazz, and in the case of films, science fiction movies. Of note, the study was not able to determine genetic influence on a host of other behaviors including the tendency to choose attractive over unattractive items, and the preference for larger rewards later versus smaller rewards sooner.

Simonson himself issues a few cautions about his research. “People are not born with a Prius gene, a compromise gene, or a jazz gene,” he notes. “Instead, these tendencies probably reflect a yet unknown combination of genetics, and gene expression characteristics, which, in turn, are influenced by an interaction between nature (genes) and nurture (environment).”

This research has interesting implications for companies.  For one thing, genetic considerations could in the future inform firms which new products and technologies could have a better chance of being well-received by particular genetic segments. According to Simonson, “genetic research could potentially reveal that a video game that uses a motion-sensitive remote is likely to benefit from certain genetic predispositions, perhaps even suggesting the most promising target consumer segments.”

Although these findings are a good first start, further research is needed to establish a direct link between specific genetic characteristics & clusters and preferences, traits and behaviors.

For more information on our services and work, please visit the Quanta Consulting Inc. web site.

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1 comment so far

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