Consumers overpredict the use of holiday
Before you add that fancy "it" gadget to your holiday wish list, you should know you're not going to
use it as much as you think you will. For a better estimate of the use you'll get out of your new toy,
ask a stranger.
That's the suggestion of Jeffrey Vietri, instructor of psychology at Albright College in Reading, Pa. and
author of a new study, "Actor-Observer Differences in Frequency-of-Use Estimates: Sometimes Strangers
Know Us Better Than Ourselves," published in the journal Social Influence this fall.
"People make optimistic predictions about themselves," he says. "They expect relationships to last longer,
tasks to take less time and things to turn out generally better than they will." And when they ask for a
waffle-maker for Christmas, they think, "I'll use this all the time!"
"But sometimes the reality of owning an object doesn't quite measure up to our expectations," says Vietri.
"The cappuccino machine is a hassle to clean, the fancy navigation system is not necessary for most
driving, and no one has time to play the new piano."
In the study, 164 participants made predictions between Thanksgiving and mid-December on how often
they would use an item they hoped to receive as a gift during the upcoming holiday season. They answered
a few questions about the item: first, if it was a replacement for something they already owned and, if so,
how often they use the current item; and second, how often they expected to use the new item between the
holidays and March. Both responses were made on a scale measuring from 1 (less than once a year) to 24
(three or more times per day). They also provided short explanation on why they thought they would use
the gift as much, or as little, as expected.
Study participants were given follow-up questionnaires in the spring and reported on how frequently they
had used the gift since receiving it on the same 24-point scale.
The gifts - no matter how longed for - were not used as often as predicted. "Fifty-nine perce