Observing Product Touch: The Vicarious Haptic Effect in Digital Marketing and Virtual Reality

Andrea Webb Luangrath, Joann Peck, William Hedgcock, Yixiang Xu

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

Retail is rapidly evolving to construct virtual environments for consumers. Online product images, videos, and virtual reality (VR) interfaces enliven consumer experiences and are a source of product information. Because consumers are unable to physically touch products in these digital environments, this research examines vicarious touch, or the observation of a hand in physical contact with a product in a digital environment. Across eight studies, the authors use images, GIFs, and VR to show that vicarious touch affects consumers’ psychological ownership and product valuation due to the active nature of product touch, which results in a felt sense of body ownership of the virtual hand. This is termed the “vicarious haptic effect.” Results demonstrate that it is not enough to show a hand in an advertisement; the hand must be touching a product. The vicarious haptic effect is strongest for people who become highly stimulated by an immersive VR experience (i.e., measured via the elevation in heart rate). The vicarious haptic effect is attenuated if the viewed interaction does not represent a diagnostic hand movement. The authors discuss theoretical and managerial implications for digital product presentation to encourage feelings of product ownership and valuation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)306-326
Number of pages21
JournalJournal of Marketing Research
Volume59
Issue number2
DOIs
StatePublished - Apr 2022

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The authors would like to thank Robby Cortes, Sarah Francisco, Abby Haynes, Karsyn Hettlinger, Tyler Horn, Daryl Irby, Sunme Lee, and Abbey Patterson for their help with Study 6. They also thank the participants of the 2019 Theory + Practice in Marketing conference, 2020 Society for Consumer Psychology conference, 2020 Association for Consumer Research conference, the University of Iowa behavioral research seminar, and the JMR review team for their suggestions and feedback. The authors gratefully acknowledge the Iowa Center for Research by Undergraduates for funding a research assistantship, the Stead Technology Group for support of the Tippie Behavioral Lab, and the University of Iowa Tippie College of Business and the University of Wisconsin–Madison School of Business for funding for this work.

Funding Information:
The authors gratefully acknowledge the Iowa Center for Research by Undergraduates for funding a research assistantship, the Stead Technology Group for support of the Tippie Behavioral Lab, and the University of Iowa Tippie College of Business and the University of Wisconsin–Madison School of Business for funding for this work.

Publisher Copyright:
© American Marketing Association 2022.

Keywords

  • body ownership
  • haptics
  • heart rate
  • online retail
  • psychological ownership
  • touch
  • vicarious experience
  • virtual reality

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