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The Psychology of Reviews

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The Psychology of Reviews

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Reviews have really come to the fore this year.  Research has shown that an increase in favourable reviews can make a big difference to whether a restaurant sells its tables or not.  That kind of power perhaps explains why news broke recently that an American lady has been sued for writing negative reviews about a tradesman.  He was seeking a cool $750,000 in damages.

New research provides additional insight into how reviews affect our purchasing decisions.

About the Research

Participants were told positive facts about one (fictional) coffee brand, and negative facts about another.  The participants were then informed that a mistake had been made, so that the positive facts actually applied to the other brand and vice versa.

They were then asked for their feelings about the two companies, with their feedback compared to a control group for whom the correction had not been made.

The Findings – First Impressions Last

Interestingly the initial impressions were incredibly powerful.  So an initial positive review made people think positively about the company, even when they were subsequently given negative information about them.

By contrast, negative reviews proved very difficult to shift, and people did not change their opinion of a company, even when provided with new information about them.

Putting the Theory into Practice

To test this theory in practice, the researchers tested the hypothesis with a hotel in Los Angeles.  Participants read five reviews of the hotel on Trip Advisor.  The researchers fixed the order of the reviews, so one group saw positive reviews first, then negative ones, with the other group seeing them the other way around.

Once again, participants were heavily influenced by the reviews they saw first.  This positive impact remained even when the review was tagged as having been written over a year ago, whilst more recent reviews were less positive.

“This research documented evidence of asymmetrical affective perseverance when consumers form attitudes towards brands,” the researchers concluded. “… Consumers may overshoot their judgments towards brands when positive information is replaced with negative information.”

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