Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository


Doctor of Philosophy




Dr. June Cotte


Researchers have long believed that consumers adjust their functional expectations in accordance with a product’s physical appearance. Recently this belief has come under fire. Product categories are converging rapidly. Take modern cell phones; the physical appearance of the iPhone is only tangentially related to the breadth of its functionality. Examples like this have sparked a wealth of interest in exploring how consumers generate inferences for products with functions that span multiple categories. One important finding is that consumers tend to generate functional inferences based mainly on the knowledge of a single category. This suggests that new hybrid products are not necessarily seen as hybrid, at least not when it comes to functional expectations.

Although highlighted as a major marketing challenge, very little progress has been made in explaining why single category beliefs occur, and why any one particular category is chosen above another. I seek to mend this gap by illustrating how context frames single category beliefs by inferring the manufacturer’s intent. Specifically, I demonstrate that context alters functional expectations (study 1), attribute preference (study 2), perceptions of proto-typicality (study 3), and attitude stability (study 4). When combined, the four studies offer a comprehensive extension of the literature on product categorization, and more importantly, illustrate the need to account for context when estimating how consumers will respond to new products with functions that span multiple categories.