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How Time and Disfluency Influence Omission Neglect

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It’s fashionable today to enthuse over globalized markets and cite glowing examples of standardized marketing winners around the world. True, some markets are globalizing, and more companies are taking advantage of them with signal success. But the rosy reports of these triumphs usually neglect to mention the complexities and risks involved; for every victory in globalization there are probably several failures that aren’t broadcast. It’s not fashionable to talk about failure.

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In everyday life, people typically receive limited information about just about everything—such as political candidates, public policies, job applicants, defendants, potential dating partners, business deals, consumer goods and services, health care products, medical procedures, and other important topics. News reports, advertisements, conversations, and other sources of information typically provide only limited information about a topic. When people overlook important missing information, even a little information can seem like a lot

Ideally, people should form stronger beliefs when a large amount of information is available than when only a small amount is available. However, when people are insensitive to omissions, they form strong beliefs regardless of how much or how little is known about a topic. Furthermore, in rare instances in which a large amount of information is available, forgetting occurs over time and insensitivity to information loss from memory, another type of omission, leads people to form stronger beliefs over time. For example, consumers should form more favorable evaluations of a new camera when the camera performs well on eight attributes rather than only four attributes. However, research shows that consumers form equally favorable evaluations of the camera regardless of how much attribute information was presented. The amount of information presented matters only when consumers were warned that information might be missing. This warning increased sensitivity to omissions and lead consumers to form more favorable evaluations of the camera described by a greater amount of information.

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Market leaders may be particularly susceptible to the selective presentation strategies of weaker competitors, thus it will be important to continue reminding consumers of a target brand’s strengths. Indeed, if a marketer fails to make a target brand’s relative strengths salient, these features that normatively should favorably impact brand evaluation and choice are unlikely to be weighed in judgment, and competitors are likely to reap market share that rightfully should be enjoyed by the target brand (Gilbert DT., 2002). To the extent that consumers exhibit omission neglect in their brand judgments, they are likely to make suboptimal decisions. If individuals are taught of their chronic insensitivity to missing information, they may be more critical consumers of marketing, and more likely to evaluate available information using their own preconceived judgmental criteria

Thus, important omissions from product descriptions are likely to be recognized, judgments are likely to be more accurate, which in turn will facilitate more satisfying decision making (Griffin D, Tversky A., 1992).

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In either case, omission neglect refers to insensitivity to missing or unknown attributes, features, properties, qualities, alternatives, options, cues, stimuli, or possibilities. Insensitivity to omissions occurs for several reasons: Omissions are typically not salient, singular judgment tasks frequently mask omissions, presented information can inhibit consideration of omissions, and people often anchor on the implications of presented information and adjust insufficiently for the implications of omissions. Omission neglect leads consumers to form less accurate opinions and, at the same time, leads consumers to hold these opinions with greater confidence. Consumers evaluate products at varying levels of abstractness.

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Cialdini RB, Levy A, Herman CP, Evenbeck S. Attitudinal politics: the strategy of moderation. JPers Soc Psychol 1973;25:100–8.

Gilbert DT. Inferential correction. In: Gilovich T, Griffin D, Kahneman D, editors. Heuristics and biases: the psychology of intuitive judgment. Cambridge (UK): Cambridge Univ. Press; 2002. p. 167–84.

Griffin D, Tversky A. The weighing of evidence and the determinants of confidence. Cogn Psychol 1992;24:411–35.

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