You Got Your Tissues in My Peanut Butter

B-school researchers look into supermarket items "contaminating" others; left-outs at the office; and why some travelers overspend overseas

Gross Domestic Product

Are you grossed out by some of the things you buy in the supermarket? Are you sickened by the sight of Huggies and Häagen-Dazs together in the shopping cart?

It happens more often than you might think, two B-school researchers report. Indeed, many shoppers are repulsed by the thought that packages of food are touching items such as toilet paper, feminine hygiene products, cat litter, or even, in some cases, mayonnaise—all items that subconsciously repulse a lot of people.

Andrea Morales, assistant professor of marketing at the College of Business at Arizona State University, and Gavan Fitzsimons, professor of marketing and psychology at the Fuqua School of Business at Duke University, recently studied the "eww factor," this notion that products that disgust people can contaminate—at least in their own minds—other products they buy. The overwhelming majority, say the duo, are completely unaware that they harbor such reactions.

Morales and Fitzsimons put products in a shopping cart filled with goods. Then, they brought in people and asked them whether they wanted to sample a cookie from a package that was either near or touching another product in the cart that many consider disgusting.

Most of the time if the cookies were touching something considered "icky," the person would not want to eat one. If the cookie packaging was transparent, even fewer people would partake of the otherwise coveted sweet treat. Published in the Journal of Marketing Research, the study was surprising on two fronts. First, everything from dog food to gastrointestinal medicine made the long list of items that disgust consumers, says Morales. Second, the effects of these perceptions were strong. "The most surprising thing to me is that even if a product is sterile—such as a feminine hygiene product—we're still disgusted," says Fitzsimons.

The researchers are following up this study with others to see how consumers behave when they have to purchase one of the "gross" products. Among the questions being studied is how much time shoppers spend in the store in those cases and what else, if anything, they buy.

Marketers can use this information to better plan product placement and the overall consumer experience. For example, shoppers perceived rice cakes to be more fattening if they were placed on the shelf next to lard, says Morales. And Fitzsimons suggests creating carts and baskets with compartments to effectively prevent yucky products from "contaminating" the others. After all this time, who knew that business professors would be the ones to find the cure for "the cooties"?

In the In Crowd—or Not!

Do you still feel like you're the last kid picked for the team? Others do, too. In the office, some folks are never really among the chosen. But recent research shows that it might be their own fault.

Self-defeating behavior seems to be the reason certain workers are excluded from the group. Along with Karl Aquino of University of British Columbia and Marijn Poortvliet of University of Groningen, Stefan Thau, a London Business School professor of organizational behavior, recently studied "thwarted belonging," which occurs when co-workers long for a greater sense of belonging than they actually get from their colleagues.

The researchers conducted a study among 130 employees and their supervisors in a large clinical lab in the Netherlands. The team asked workers to rate their desired and actual levels of belonging. Then, managers rated employees' harmful and helpful behaviors. Using the statistical data gathered from the surveys, the researchers determined that those who felt less a part of the group displayed more harmful behaviors.

Employees who are left out seem to be their own worst enemy. "In interpersonal relationships at work, some people always do the wrong thing," writes Thau in an e-mail. "They gossip about others even though they are already kind of out of the group; they refuse to help even though it's really expected." He adds that feeling excluded often leads people down a path of self-absorption, which only makes the problem worse.

Thau and the others are continuing research in this subject area. Now, they are trying to understand the reasons for thwarted belonging. They've already found that employees at risk for exclusion withdraw from work and experience symptoms similar to paranoia, where they believe colleagues are against them.

All workers can learn from these studies on interpersonal relationships in the workplace. In fact, there's already a positive lesson in all of this: Play nice and you'll probably be picked for the team in the first round.

Money Makes the World Go 'Round

Before you blow all those rupees during a summer getaway in India, you better read the recently published article in the Journal of Consumer Research. In it, Klaus Wertenbroch of INSEAD France, Dilip Soman, professor of management and strategy at the Joseph Rotman School of Management at University of Toronto, and Amitava Chattopadhyay of INSEAD Singapore show that problems with travel budgets arise because people do not truly understand the value of currency from one country to another.

In a series of lab experiments, in which people were asked to allot money to budgets in different currencies, people underspent when the apparent face value of a currency was less than that of their home currency, and overspent when it was more.

In other words, if the number of units is larger then people feel as though they have more spending power, the researchers found. For example, if you have 1,500 lira you'll spend more than if you have $1, even though those two sums are equal—at least they were until Italy moved to the euro. And people almost always balked, says Soman, at prices when paying with credit cards, probably because they then could see the actual exchange rate.

One of the researchers was inspired by his own experiences. Soman travels a lot and has lived in five different countries in three continents. "I struggled with how much spending power I had," he says. That motivated him to work on this study. He encourages travelers to touch and hold the currency and highlight the exchange rate when budgeting.

Soman is continuing to study relevant subjects, including the relationship between overeating and the volume of food you're given, and how consumer decision-making between high-quality and generic brands differs from nation to nation. "Everything is a function of price, but it depends on where that money comes from," says Soman.

So when you take off on vacation—even if the foreign currency mesmerizes you with its pretty colors and three- and four-digit numbers—remember, it's not Monopoly money. It's the real thing, so spend it wisely.

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