Research Insights

Judging a book by its cover? The effect of anthropomorphism on product attribute processing and consumer preference

By Dr. Rocky P. Chen 

How humanisation can help your business?

How to advertise your products which have beautiful appearance but poor function? More specifically, if you try to sell a laptop computer with attractive appearance design and a relatively less powerful CPU, what kind of advertising strategy will you use for the laptop? My recent research offers a possible solution. Person perception theory tells us that humans highly rely on appearance cues to judge other persons. When products are described as persons in advertising such as the M&M’s chocolate guys, people use the way they perceive other persons to judge the humanised products. That is, they pay more attention to the products’ appearance and use appearance as the basis for product choice. In this case, a laptop with a less powerful CPU but attractive appearance is perceived to be a better option than one with a more powerful CPU but unattractive appearance. In seven experiments we confirm that product humanisation in advertising lead consumers to spend more time and money searching for information about appearance attributes, to show greater preference for products with more beautiful appearance, and to purchase products with more appealing appearance design. This effect occurs because consumers apply the belief of beautiful-is-good, a pervasive stereotype in person perception, to the judgment of humanised products.


Wan, Echo Wen, Rocky Peng Chen, and Liyin Jin (2017), “Judging a Book by Its Cover? The Effect of Anthropomorphism on Product Attribute Processing and Consumer Preference,” Journal of Consumer Research, 43 (6), 1008-1030. (Equal Authorship)