Human Subjects in Consumer Research


Human subjects are utilized in many fields of research. The primary sciences that are focused on studying human reaction and behavior are psychology and sociology. Consumer research is connected with either in equal measure, as its primary objective is to model and understand consumer behavior. The purpose of this paper is to analyze three articles from a peer-reviewed journal dedicated to consumer research and highlight the ways in which human subjects are utilized to further the understanding of their behavior and purchasing patterns.

The Effect of Social Exclusion on Consumer Preference for Anthropomorphized Brand

This research was conducted by Chen, Wan, and Levy in 2017. The purpose of this research, as the title clearly indicates, is to study the effects of social exclusion on the popularity of anthropomorphized brands. Examples of such brands are M&M chocolate pellets, which are presented by two humanized mascots, Pepsi, whose logo emulates a smiley, as well as products with slogans written in the first person and addressing the customer directly (Chen, Wan, & Levy, 2017). The literature section presented at the beginning of the article lends some credibility to the hypotheses tested. However, none of the sources offers precise answers, meaning that in order to analyze the credibility of the hypothesis in a quantitative way, the use of human subjects was necessary. The research presented a variety of experiments that had the purpose of testing the subjects’ capability of memorizing, recognizing, and choosing brands in different situations. The results have proved that customers faced with social exclusion preferred anthropomorphized brands as well as brands that were associated with group inclusion (Chen et al., 2017). The experiment also demonstrated that socially excluded subjects were more likely to form long-term relationships with their chosen brands when compared with subjects that did not face social exclusion and isolation.

A Recipe for Friendship: Similar Food Consumption Promotes Trust and Cooperation

This research was performed by Woolley and Fishbach in 2017. The purpose of this study was to analyze the implications of food consumption as a basis for future trust and cooperation. The tested hypothesis was that similar choices in food made people relate to one another better and find common grounds for future developments (Woolley & Fishbach, 2017). As in the previous study, the use of human test subjects was justified by the need to obtain reliable quantitative data, which could be analyzed through statistical means in order to test the plausibility of the hypothesis. The experiment consisted of two parts – during the first stage, the subjects were split into pairs and were given similar or different foods to consume, while during the second stage, the subjects had to participate in a game of trust. The results of the study have demonstrated that consuming similar foods and mutual consumption in general increases levels of friendship, trust, and cooperation (Woolley & Fishbach, 2017). The use of human subjects allowed conducting research using different combinations and scenarios in order to eliminate bias and account for other variables that were affecting the results. The conclusions presented in this research, thus, had a solid quantitative basis, which could not have been possible in a qualitative analysis or literature research.

Placebo Effects of Marketing Labels on Perceived Intoxication and Risky Attitudes and Behavior

This study, performed by Cornil, Chandon, and Krishna in 2017, investigates the placebo effect of Red Bull mixed with alcohol when compared to alcohol-juice mix. From a medical perspective, neither of these drinks had any effects that would potentially increase intoxication, meaning that any perceptions and differences in effects between the drinks would heavily rely on placebo effects behind brand names. The necessity of using human test subjects was dictated both by the need to assess the perceived levels of intoxication and the changes in social behavior based on placebo effect. The results of the study showed that the test subjects under the influence of Red Bull-alcohol cocktail were more likely to act more recklessly and engage in more active sexual behavior (Cornil, Chandon, & Krishna, 2017). At the same time, they were more likely to wait for extended periods of time before driving, which indicated a higher perceived level of intoxication, when compared to the alcohol-juice mix. The experimental research design provided the necessary quantitative data for statistical analysis.


In each of the analyzed studies, the use of human subjects was motivated by the necessity to obtain quantitative data to test hypotheses that examined social effects of consumer behavior and brand perception. The use of test animals in any of the experiments was not possible, as it contradicted the scope and purpose of the research. In addition, none of the research designs seemed to be particularly dangerous to the test subjects, as in all three cases, the scenarios were made to model situations that many people found themselves in every day, be that purchasing items at the store, having dinners with coworkers, or drinking in a pub. All three studies had the purpose of testing and understanding consumer behavior, which is the primary role of marketing research.


Chen, R. P., Wan, E. W., & Levy, E. (2017). The effect of social exclusion on consumer preference for anthropomorphized brands. Journal of Consumer Psychology, 27(1), 23-34.

Cornil, Y., Chandon, P., & Krishna, A. (2017). Does Red Bull give wings to vodka? Placebo effects of marketing labels on perceived intoxication and risky attitudes and behaviors. Journal of Consumer Psychology, 27(3), 456-465.

Woolley, K., & Fishbach, A. (2017). A recipe for friendship: Similar food consumption promotes trust and cooperation. Journal of Consumer Psychology, 27(1), 1-10.

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