Watching ducks walk

A story in the Globe today reports on a study of how consumers make decisions about what to buy. The study posits that consumers choose products they identify with — the “in” group — and shun ones in the “out” group. In one experiment, the group of Canadian:

study subjects used and graded identical pens that were randomly labelled as “vintage” (a neutral group), “Belgian” (not a group they belong to, but one that doesn’t provoke strong feelings of non-identity), and “American” (a label with which they did not want to be associated).

(Emphasis mine.)

To no one’s surprise:

People rated the “American” pen much lower after researchers asked them a series of questions that made them think about their Canadian identity.

What questions led to this swelling of pride among the Canadian research subjects, you may ask?

(For example, “name a Canadian celebrity you admire” and “name a Canadian city you’d like to visit.”)

Odd — Michael Cera and Thunder Bay aren’t having that effect on me. But onto the analysis of the lead researcher, marketing professor Katherine White:

It’s not that the research subjects were anti-American, Dr. White said. They just felt strongly that “American” was a group they did not belong to, and thus they unconsciously lowered their opinion of products with that label.

I’m quite sure that without much effort (thanks, Google), I could find the same weasel words used to explain away any prejudice held against any group. It’s nonsensical. Keeping in mind that the three pens were identical, take a look at some definitions of prejudice:

Unreasonable feelings, opinions, or attitudes, esp. of a hostile nature, regarding a racial, religious, or national group.

A preconceived preference or idea.

An adverse judgment or opinion formed beforehand or without knowledge or examination of the facts.