Fascinating new research to be published in Journal of Consumer
Psychology by a University of Houston professor and two colleagues from
Ghent University in Belgium presents an evolutionary theory on why
people are attracted to shiny objects.
The authors - Vanessa Patrick of the University of Houston C. T. Bauer
College of Business and Mario Pandelaere and Katrien Meert of Ghent
University - suggest that the appeal of glossy surfaces may be a
reflection of mankind's age-old quest for fresh water to ensure survival.
"Since fresh water has a shiny surface, being drawn to shiny surfaces
may have increased the probability of finding fresh water sources and
thus have increased chances of survival," they write.
To support their hypothesis, the authors conducted a set of six studies
that established the preference for glossy in both adults and children.
They then delved into the reason behind this attraction, ruling out
"This paper shows that our preference for glossy might be deep-rooted
and very human," says Patrick, a Bauer College Associate Professor of
Marketing. "Despite our sophistication and progress as a species, we are
still drawn to things that serve our innate needs - in this case, the
need for water."
Patrick believes the research could have practical business
applications, particularly in marketing.
"Given the globalization of business, marketers are in need of human
universals that they can rely on," she said. "Knowing that the
preference for glossy is innate (not cultural) could help a marketer
creae packaging, logos, brand signatures and product designs that would
be effective regardless of cultural differences."
The researchers set the tone for their study in an evocative
"Human beings are attracted to glossy objects. Shimmering lipsticks,
gleaming cars, dazzling diamonds and sequined gowns conjure up images of
the good life."
But why is that?
First the trio had to rule out that the appeal is related to social
behavior and status.
"That appears to be the most obvious explanation," Patrick said. "But we
show that it goes deeper than that."
The researchers eliminate the socialization explanation by showing
glossy versus matte images to 4- and 5-year-olds who were too young to
have been socialized into liking glossy.
The authors also cite previous research demonstrating that infants tend
to prefer to lick glossy objects over dull ones. The infants and
toddlers even crouch on their hands and knees to do so - a posture that
mirrors the drinking of water in natural habitats. "This does speak to
something very primitive, very basic," Patrick said.
In another study, the authors explore whether the "preference for glossy
simply stemmed from visual appeal." In other words: Does glossy equal
Participants in that study were blindfolded and had to rely on touch.
Not only did the blindfolded participants prefer glossy to rough paper,
but they also "rated an advertised product as being of higher quality
when displayed on a glossy versus a non-glossy paper," the authors
In a final study, the authors demonstrated the link between glossy and
the need for water by showing that thirsty participants demonstrated a
stronger preference for glossy images than non-thirsty ones.
"At the end of the day, we are all fundamentally human," Patrick said.
"We all have the same basic drives, and those basic drives might
underlie very complex behaviors and preferences."
About the University of Houston
The University of Houston, Texas' premier metropolitan research and
teaching institution is home to more than 40 research centers and
institutes and sponsors more than 300 partnerships with corporate, civic
and governmental entities. UH, the most diverse research university in
the country, stands at the forefront of education, research and service
with more than 35,000 students.
About the C. T. Bauer College of Business
The C. T. Bauer College of Business has been in operation for more than
60 years at the University of Houston main campus. Through its five
academic departments, the college offers a full-range of undergraduate,
masters and doctoral degrees in business. The Bauer College is fully
accredited by the AACSB International - the Association to Advance
Collegiate Schools of Business. In August 2000, Houston business leader
and philanthropist Charles T. (Ted) Bauer endowed the College of
Business with a $40 million gift. In recognition of his generosity, the
college was renamed the C. T. Bauer College of Business.
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